Kali Fasteau is the keeper of a flame. While the high-octane experiments of the '60s New Thing are largely kept alive today by emulation, Fasteau holds to the era's spirit of exploration. Rather than engaging in long-winded blowing sessions, her interest lies in jazz-based journeys using different instrumental voices and cultural traditions as a vehicle. She uses her singing voice like Albert Ayler and her worldly collection of instruments and forms is an extension of the musical sociology that occupied such greats as Coltrane and Dolphy. Her connection to those days runs deeper: her partner in music and world travel, the late Donald Rafael Garrett, worked with Coltrane.
Fourteen years of travel, during which she studied many ethnic forms and traditions, took her to India, Turkey, Nepal, Morocco, Senegal, Congo, Italy, Holland, France, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Germany, Greece and Haiti. That time is reflected in her instrumentation and choice of personnel. Along with her piano and saxophones, on this release Fasteau plays mizmar, reed flutes and drums, and has among her bandmates a Native American saxophonist and a Korean cellist. Most of the ensemble adds an element of African instrumentation to their primary instrument. The compositions juxtapose jazz improvisationsometimes energetic, sometimes reflectiveand non-Western forms, and the playing is strong throughout.
This is Fasteau's ninth release on her own Flying Note label, and as with most of them she combines different sessions with strong musicians, most notably here the delicately musical drummer Newman Taylor Baker and, in an unusual setting for her, cellist Okkyung Lee. But this manner of structuring her releases constrains Fasteau's music. Sixteen tracks from six different sessions make the disc feel choppy and incomplete. Fasteau works hard and is always looking for new sounds, but she would do well to let those sounds develop over the course of a disc, rather than displaying a bed of ideas that might have flowered had they been less crowded.
This review originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of All About Jazz - New York