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Bill Cole’s debut disc for Boxholder described the myriad strengths of his Untempered Ensemble at full muster ranging through a handful of powerful and highly personal compositions. Comprising a formidable roster of improvisers including Cooper-Moore, William Parker and Joseph Daley, and adhering to Cole’s rubric of incorporating non-Western instruments into jazz-based improvisatory settings the group was an ingenious amalgam of new and traditionally grounded sonorities. The 2-disc set turned out to be one of the most original and thought-provoking releases of 2000. This second release is culled from a performance that followed the day after the one issued on the first where Cole chose to pair with several colleagues from the Ensemble project in stripped down duo settings and bookended the program with two solo performances, the first for flute and the second for shenai.
While the compositions and playing remain passionate and personal and there are many moments of brilliance on the sophomore effort, Cole’s expectations on his audience are even higher and overall the music is even more demanding than it’s predecessor. Devoid of the broad palette of textures and colors afforded by large ensemble Cole is forced to work much more within the parameters of his own instruments, many of which were not designed for a wide dynamic range of expressive capabilities. As a result, their limitations as extended improvisatory vehicles are brought into bolder relief. Even with Cole’s broad array of extended techniques (multiphonics, vocalizations, etc.) the opening piece for flute suffers in this respect and threatens to slip into redundancy toward its close. Conversely the second piece stands as one of them most engaging pieces of music I’ve heard in recent memory. Cooper-Moore is a genius- an instrument-maker and improviser who is completely comfortable in seemingly any setting. On homemade hoe-handled harp he plucks out a gossamer latticework of Eastern-tinged angelic patterns that simulate the sky to Cole’s droning didgeridoo earth. Shenai and diddley-bow are matched on “W.S.C. & G.Y.A. Blues” trafficking in a weird strain of Middle-Eastern funk. Cooper-Moore’s diddley-bow, an amplified one-string instrument, lays down a viscous vamp and Cole soars above. Again the temporal dimensions of the piece surpass the variations achievable by the instruments. In addition Cooper-Moore’s ‘bow’ sacrifices some clarity through muddy amplification.
Cole and Smith convene on the next two tracks, first meshing circular blown Tibetan trumpet with gongs before moving into a conversation between sona, shenai and trap drums. More meditative than overtly musical these pieces also require that listeners subsume expectations and simply attend to the sounds on their own terms. Of the two Smith’s dynamic drumming on the second piece makes it slightly more accessible, but both pieces repay attentive listening in the textures and communication they unveil. Cole’s solemn piri and Parker’s pitched string bowing mix sharply on the next composition creating another atmosphere of Eastern-inflected sonorities that rises into a flurried patchwork of tone colors. Closing with a solo shenai invocation in honor of former friend and colleague Clifford Thornton Cole leaves the way wide open for Volume 2.
Personnel: Bill Cole- flute, digeridoo, shenai, Tibetan trumpet, sona, piri; Cooper-Moore- horizontal hoe-handle harp, diddley bow; Warren Smith- gongs, trap drums; William Parker- bass. Recorded: November 20, 1999, Greenfield, MA.