Dan Wilson / Mark Huggett Project: Max Roach Park (2006)
Too few musical groups call themselves "projects"; perhaps they fear unwarranted comparison with the Alan Parsons Project (you know, "I Am The Eye In The Sky"). As indeed they should.
Some groups nevertheless really are projects, which is to say, not necessarily long-term relationships but rather short to medium-term agglomerations of talent, with a fixed objective and a focused vision. So it is with Max Roach Park, the new record by the Dan Wilson/Mark Huggett Project. (The record is named for a park in the Lambeth borough of London.)
The inputs on Max Roach Park are the largely discredited raw materials of a lot of New Age products: a vaguely spiritual subject matter, sound samples from the traditional music of many continents, and most of all a pleasant but bland hypnotic style tending toward quietism. English drummer Huggett and South African bassist/keyboardist Wilson refashion these elements, casting in greater relief the worthy elements therein: trance and texture.
Huggett and Wilson emphasize the repetitive, trance-inducing qualities of the music, something they share with their less interesting New Age brethren. They remind us that this now-diluted practice has robust, energetic precedents: you can hear the spirit of bracing Moroccan Gnawa music in the relentless riffs of the Count Basie Orchestra, or of Funkadelic. This lineage is echoed on the record's opener, "Vuleka." Its rhythmic elementstaut funk by the leaders, overlaid with South African group chantinglock together according to some evident metric correspondence, but not without sounding at every point as though they are trying to pull the other elements apart. Mesmerizing.
Further along the trance continuum is the crystalline, contemplative electric music of Miles Davis's In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969)which no one ever labelled "New Age." Huggett and Wilson successfully inscribe Max Roach Park in that vein.
Within tracks there is considerable textural variety: witness the guitar and trumpet lines on "Tau Ceti," or the circular African rhythm wedded to a nagging sax honk on "William Blake." (Blake was another artist who refused to water down his spiritual aspirations. And he was from Lambeth, too.) So too in the track sequencing there are topographical ups and downs along the way, from the crisp funk of "Vuleka" to a long, meditative closing "Pray."
Huggett and Wilson clearly never meant to make anything like a New Age record; I hope not to have caused confusion. If anything, their musical ethos is nearer to that of Jim Black's Alasnoaxis (whom they even sonically resemble on "A Greener Room," with its downcast, Downtown rock 'n' roll guitar): a deceptively simple and unostentatious combination of elements that nevertheless strikes a deep-seated emotional chord.
Track Listing: Vuleka; Mr M.D.; Zuni; Fireweed; Mello; William Blake; The Forty Niner; Bells; Chesil; No Mans Land; Kenyon; Tau Ceti; A Greener Room; Pray.
Personnel: Dan Wilson: basses, keyboards; Mark Huggett: drums; James Tartaglia: tenor saxophone; Silas Wood: guitar; Dave Warren: guitar; Yngvil Vatn Guttu: trumpet; Gina Selby: vocalisations; Teresa Walsh: flute.