The Astral-Terra Trapeze Unit: The Astral-Terra Trapeze Unit (2003)
Chicago's Astral-Terra Trapeze Unit is the brainchild of alto saxophonist/flutist/composer Kurt Hill Iselt. Inspired by 1960s jazz icons like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Sun Ra, Iselt chose his band's name to symbolize the polarities of Earth and stars, with musicians as trapeze artists swinging between them.
The first thing you notice about this Trapeze Unit is how cohesive it is. These players negotiate the rhythm, tempo, and time signature changes of Iselt's tunes (he wrote all seven) with sleek precision and no loss of swing or momentum – and indeed, a hearty swing informs these performances. The Trapeze Unit is a working band, and it shows.
Among the soloists, tenor and soprano saxophonist Paul Hartsaw fares best, to these ears. He plays muscular, hard-swinging tenor in the Chicago tradition of great tenor players, a line that includes the likes of John Gilmore and Von Freeman. Grounded in hard bop but not enslaved by it, even going outside at times, Hartsaw is a worthy addition to this elite group. The other notable musician here is veteran AACM trumpeter Bill Brimfield, who contributes thoughtful, sometimes even delicate improvisations. He manipulates his tone from polarities of broad majesty to a sort of scratchy sadness. Brimfield is an important post-Don Cherry trumpet voice, and it's significant that he is part of this band. The leader has a warm sound and an economical style that's reminiscent of Anthony Braxton. But what really makes the Trapeze Unit click is that rhythm section.
Three pieces have lyrics, sung with operatic brio by Kosi Keith Eric. The lyrics are idealistic in the manner of those Pharoah Sanders-Leon Thomas albums of yore – Karma, Jewels Of Thought, and the like. But we live in more cynical times, and today's listeners may find these words naive, new-agey, even silly. Nevertheless, there is much to like here: some catchy melodies, as on "Green Children," and a lot of driving swing; plus Bill Brimfield, and above all, Paul Hartsaw.
For more information, visit www.trapeze6667.com .
Track Listing: Kwahadi Torchflower, Conception, Giampietro, Building Greech Norro, Luger, Paulina's Cornelian Chimes, Green Children.
Personnel: Kurt Hill Iselt, alto sax and flute; Bill Brimfield, trumpet; Paul Hartsaw, tenor and soprano sax; Stu Greenspan, guitar; Vytis Nivinskas, bass; Bonbonfera Tim Keenan, drums, percussion; Alexander Duvel, Flugelhorn, percussion; Kosi Keith Eric, vocals; Paul Spata, congas, percussion; Gynna Kray, vocals.
Record Label: Astral Jazz
Style: Modern Jazz