Andy Middleton: Reinventing the World (2003)
Based upon the packaging, I suspected that this disc would contain avant-garde or at the very least cutting-edge, Knitting Factory-type jazz. There are no liner notes, just photos of the personnel and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler's name staring me in the face. Well, my guess couldn't be further from the truth. Reinventing the World is a well-thought-out, mainstream combo recording with many fine moments.
Several critical opinions on this album have cited Mr. Middleton's environmental concerns. Perhaps these themes are reflected on his previous albums but, aside from a few titles like "Three Mile Island" and "X's For Eyes," there's not really any evidence of that here. I also gather that "Atlas Shrugged" is not a literary reference. Middleton has been compared to ECM reedman Jan Garbarek, but his style on tenor and soprano sax is much warmer than that of the Scandinavian saxman. The album begins with "Ode to Ken Saro Wiwa" in an intelligent and attractive mid-tempo melody and continues with "Les Beaux." Just like the leader's name implies, his tenor sax delivery is right down the middle, neither rushing forward nor raising the level of intensity. Likewise, his soprano sax work is pleasant, not brittle.
I've heard Kenny Wheeler on many recordings, largely on his decade-old ECM career, in a variety of genres. Here he's the perfect foil for Middleton, playing crisply with only an occasional hint at wanting to take the next note over the edge. Nils Wogram's trombone is attractive when he gets a chance on "Naugahide." For the most part, the ten original compositions are user-friendly and only on "Naugahide" does he show a more jagged melody line, a setting in which Middleton's solo is angrier. Drummer Owen Howard is featured on "Naugahide" and John Hebert takes his bass through a solo on (no surprise) "Bass Intro." Although pianist Henry Hey isn't proiminent in featured solos, his work is consistent and very supportive of the group. Now that curiosity has kicked in, I'll be checking out Middleton's Nomad's Notebook from 2000.
Track Listing: Ode to Ken Saro Wiwa, Les Beaux, Three Mile Island, Gaviotas, At the Foot of the Hill, Naugahyde, Bass Intro, Atlas Shrugged, X's For Eyes
Personnel: Andy Middleton, saxophones; Sheila Cooper, saxophones; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet,flugelhorn; Nils Wogram,trombone; Darcy Hepner, clarinet, bass clarinet; Henry Hey,piano; John Hebert,bass; Owen Howard,drums.