Hugh Ragin: Revelation (2004)
Houston-born and Colorado-based trumpeter Hugh Ragin long ago grasped the essential connections between modern jazz sophistication and soulful energy, but he has never articulated them as clearly and comprehensively on record as on Revelation. Ragin has been responsible for a recent string of releases on Justin Time, in addition to his recognized association with David Murray. He's joined on this all-original program by multi-reed player Assif Tsahar (on whose Hopscotch label he released Sound Pictures for Solo Trumpet two years ago), bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake.
Listening to Revelation brings to mind a range of similar musical experiences delivered by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and lesser-known forces from the realm of the so-called avant-garde. Indeed, these players are all eager to stretch the boundaries of form. The opening "Restoration Intensive" gets started with a brief, Ornette-ish head with loosely interseamed horns, then Tsahar takes free bop into uncharted territory on tenor, followed by Ragin's own probing outreach and a brief plucked-then-bowed solo from Parker. The actual composition plays a subordinate role to creative improvisation, setting the stage for much of the rest of the record.
The more recognizably melodic, swinging, and lightly funky feel of "Kamal's Gift" is regularly reinforced by Drake's in-the-pocket drumming and Parker's regular (though often indirect and never predictable) emphasis on the one. Soulful, bluesy gestures dominate both trumpet and saxophone solos; Tsahar sounds uncommonly earthy despite his energetic delivery. Oddly enough, you might just find yourself humming along by the time the memorable head returns toward the end.
But that tune is really an exception to the relative intensity which dominates the rest of the record. So, too, is the fifteen-minute title track, the centerpiece of the record, which coveys a sense of meditative contemplation, cloudy skies, and outreach toward reconciliation. Once these tones have blown past, you're in for a twist of fate on "The Battlefield," where martial drums and bugling break into wavering horns (the ghost of Ayler looms heavy here) and eventually shrill shouts and screams.
Subsequent events on "Skull Hill" explore the nasal tones of the musette, shimmering with a North African tint and matched by rolling drums. By the time "Speak to the Mountain" blasts its way into the picture toward the end, you're in for a heaping serving of barely restrained energy over a cascading, overflowing, insistent pulse. But here and at all other stages along the way, Ragin and his quartet imbue the music with a palpably soulful feel. This is not the sort of clinical experimentation that marks British free jazz, for example; these rich, full-bodied statements come straight from the heart and don't lose track of the music's organic roots.
Track Listing: Restoration Intensive; Kamal's Gift; Revelation; The Battlefield; Skull Hill; Night Life; Wormwood; Speak to the Mountain; Next Time. Total time: 65:01.
Personnel: Hugh Ragin: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, pocket trumpet; Assif Tsahar: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, musette; William Parker: bass, musette, pocket trumpet; Hamid Drake: drums, percussion.