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Extended Analysis

Mat Marucci & Markus Burger: Genesis

By Published: February 3, 2005
Mat Marucci and Markus Burger

Like a quote worked into a freewheeling improvisation, sometimes the real grounding for a piece (or pieces) of music is the players involved. Whatever direction the improvisation takes, the arisal of a constant provides a ground or context for the art at hand. Take, for instance, Eric Dolphy's lengthy bass clarinet improvisation on "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise," at a University of Illinois concert in 1963 ( The Illinois Concert , Blue Note). Dolphy obliquely references the timeworn theme throughout his solo, never stating it initially, rather building an idea of the material before the material itself is brought in to close out the piece. Two or three players worked into a multitude of improvisational settings likewise provide a referential ground for cohesion, even if the number and nature of players change frequently over the course of a record, as is the case with Genesis , the latest offering from California drummer Mat Marucci and German pianist Markus Burger.

Recorded in Sacramento, where Marucci and Burgur teach (the latter an adjunct at Sacramento State, the former at American River College), Genesis is their first recording together. For the occasion, they place themselves in three very distinct contexts—a trio; a quintet with two saxophonists (including the storied Danish-Congolese hatchet-man and sometime actor John Tchicai); and a nonet. Whatever the context, the music's focus is primarily on free improvisation, or at least loosely structured pieces—a significant direction considering that a number of the participants had not played together before.

The record is additive in its fire; "Atmosphere" is a stark, repetitious piano figure initiating an icy, open air to the proceedings—yet as Tchicai and Doug Webb enter on tenors for the title track, that sheen is scoured considerably. At faster tempos, Marucci's distracted yet "on" sense of time reminds me of Joe Chambers or Anthony Williams, while Burgur's keening repetitions and understated chords echo Herbie Hancock at his avant-garde finest. Here, the feel is reminiscent of Williams' Spring or Wayne Shorter's The All-Seeing Eye , which, incidentally, included a similarly-paced composition called "Genesis."

Yet as open and intense as the music gets, Marucci and Burger have a genuine rhythmic rapport, an ever-expanding and contracting sense of kinetics that propel reed sections forward as well as act as part of an extraordinarily cohesive trio. Burger is not always subtle, though; his piano-string antics and penchant for Gypsy-like rhythmic figures ally him with Burton Greene and other purveyors of extended technique.

From the perspective of the rhythm section's strength, the nonet tracks might be the least successful here; though Marucci is a sure propellant to any soloist, the reed section has a tendency to take over the proceedings and Burger especially seems a bit buried and his solos flustered in this context. Yet a workshop atmosphere pervades these pieces, and where would the dynamic duo be without having to stay on its toes?

Genesis is valuable proof of not only the flexibility of two musicians, but how improvisation works on a grander scale. Adaptability of material—not just phrases and notes, but the material of players and of interplay—is central to creative music. Judging from the expanding possibilities here, Mat Marucci and Markus Burger are keenly aware.

Tracks: Atmosphere - Genesis - Eurojazz - Fractured - Cardiology - Big Bang - Timepiece - Conference of the Chiefs - Duality - Black Hole - Time Inside Part 2.

Personnel: Mat Marucci (d), Markus Burger (p), John Tchicai (ts), Doug Webb (ts, ss), Steve Gundhi (as), Tony Passarell (bs), Steve Roach (tp), Robb Fisher, Fred Randolph, Adam Lane (b), John Allen (perc).

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