Joseph Jarman: As If It Were The Seasons (2007)
As a charter member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, multi-reed player Joseph Jarman has been responsible for fashioning an entirely different approach to group improvisation from a time in the mid-1960s, when both John Coltrane and Albert Ayler were breaking with established practices. In a sense Jarman's career since has been an exercise in the refining and redefining of his underlying approach, and this disc serves notice of the distinctive place he started out from.
The music here, recorded back in 1968, is both a precursor of what was to come with the AEC and the result of a group aesthetic with which Jarman and his cohorts had been working for a number of years even at the time. Consisting of just two lengthy tracks, that very length allows the music to breathe, especially as near-silence and space are integral to its success. The deft use and understanding of the potential of dynamics as a potent musical tool also enhances the music, giving it an innately singular air.
All of this is this is best exemplified on "As If It Were The Seasons And Song To Make The Sun Come Up," where Jarman's entrance on alto sax at around the nine-and-a-half minute mark sounds like both a fundamental break with what has preceded it and an amplification of the established mood. The finesse and sensitivity that this implies is hard to come by, and the fact that Sherri Scott shows an abundance of both qualities in her vocal work serves to raise the music to a higher, more rarefied plain. She shows the influence of Jeanne Lee, but not to the extent that it dilutes the impact of her own distinct musical personality.
The trio of Jarman, bassist Charles Clark and percussionist Thurman Barker is with her all the way as the piece develops, and it soon becomes clear that this is a music in which conventional virtuosity and instrumental and vocal technique are mere touchstones, as opposed to ends in themselves.
The quartet is significantly augmented for "Song For Christopher" and, if anything, the resulting music is perhaps less self-contained, touching as it does upon the likes of Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965) in terms of such fundamental issues as volume. That said, the results still come across as the product of a subtler, less cathartic dynamic.
In terms of what might be called the most visible history of music in Chicago, the work of both Jarman and his close musical companion Roscoe Mitchell are major anomalies. On the other hand, their work has always been indicative of a musical community as diverse as it is deep, with As If It Were The Seasons providing abundant evidence.
Track Listing: As If It Were The Seasons and Song To Make The Sun Come Up; Song For Christopher.
Personnel: Joseph Jarman: alto saxophone, bassoon, fife, recorder, soprano saxophone; Charles Clark: bass, cello, koto; Thurman Barker: drums, percussion; Sherri Scott: voice; Muhal Richard Abrams: piano, oboe (2); Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone (2); John Stubblefield: tenor saxophone (2); Joel Brandon: flute (2); John Jackson: trumpet (2); Lester Lashley: trombone (2); All Personnel: bells, gongs, harps (2).