With cellist Tom Cora’s untimely passing in 1999, the - modern music - world lost a true pioneer! And along with such folks as John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, George Cartwright, Fred Frith and a few others, Cora helped define what would become the now infamous, “New York City Downtown Scene”. Simply put, the cellist/composer was an innovative technical stylist who arguably helped revolutionize the role of the cello within modern/free jazz and progressive rock circles. A member of the excellent modern electric band “Curlew”, his work with “Skeleton Crew” (Frith and Zeena Parkins), John Zorn and his small improvising unit, “Third Person” offered the world a variegated or expansive glimpse of his boundless capabilities and extensive musical vocabulary.
Here, on It’s A Brand New Day – Tom Cora Live at The Knitting Factory Cora’s exuberance and intensity shines forth thanks to Bruce Lee Gallanter, who taped these performances with his Sony DAT recorder. Hence, this new release signifies a compilation of noteworthy performances that span from 1989 through 1996, as several of the cellist’s recordings are either out of print or difficult to obtain. And despite the seemingly rudimentary recording techniques utilized for these live dates, the audio quality is surprisingly good as we hear Cora steering a mutant funk-rock groove on “High Sidewalk” featuring drummer Samm Bennett, and “Curlew’s” alto saxophonist George Cartwright’s emotionally charged choruses. Here, Cora displays ferocity and ingenuity as he pursues steely edged, intersecting lines while also providing the soft undercurrents and sinewy themes via his deeply personalized mode of execution. Clarinetist Don Byron’s raspy yet powerful attack on “Andy’s Fault” paves the way for complex themes, toe-tapping rhythms and Cora’s mind boggling creations. “Saint Dog” features trumpeter Dave Douglas’s stabbing leads in tandem with Cora’s sublime yet at times haunting lines, sharp utilization of tremolo, subtle inflections and soulful, jazz-based motifs as Cora’s then “Curlew” band-mates, bassist Ann Rupel and drummer Pippin Barnett, initiate the pumped up rhythms. “Elisha” is a penetrating eighteen-minute duet with guitarist and master improviser Fred Frith as the duo pursues scathing lines, micro-themes and disparate sounds and ideas. Basically, highlights abound and flourish within the entire scope of these performances.
It’s A Brand New Day revitalizes the musical spirit of a master musician who possessed a unique vision and forthright attitude towards music yet Tom Cora probably did not garner the widespread attention he so deserved. However, we can only hope for more quality product such as this recording and a recent release on the “Tzadik” label to be lifted from the vaults, as Tom Cora’s important and altogether relevant legacy continues to unfold.
* * * * ½ (out of * * * * *)