Michael Marcus: Lotus Symphony, Free Within The Law & Duology
Saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Marcus further establishes his versatility with these three recent releases. In various instrumental configurations and featuring long-time collaborators, these are diverse discs where craft and commitment merge to create thought-provoking and soulful listening experiences.
Lotus Symphony finds Marcus in the company of several groups based on the leader's clarinet with one of two rhythm sections, plus guest appearances by tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney and pianist John Austria. Indeed the latter shines most brightly with his mystical accompaniment to the reprised and much briefer version of "As Always, Our Blessings" presented here, his rich chords providing serene support to Marcus' clarinet. Yet, as the first version swings into its meter, Austria hangs enticingly behind the beat, evoking shades of late '60s Alice Coltrane with stark immediacy. The other compositions are a bit lighter and slightly more transparent, Marcus' gift for melodic invention coming to the fore. The title track, to cite only one example, exhibits up-tempo quirkiness, hip syncopations abounding as the trio of bassist Radu ben Judah and drummer Jay Rosen glides effortlessly through the mini-labyrinth Marcus has constructed. The most interesting combinations on this album involve Rosen, whose trademark percussive shimmers and wide dynamic range bring additional life to these vibrant compositions, as heard on the rollicking trio version of "Seal Rock-Bird Rock". Comparing the different readings of these fine compositions is both fascinating and fun.
The other Not Two release under discussion, Free within the Law, comes courtesy of the Cosmosamatics, the long-term aggregate co-led by Marcus with veteran pioneer and improviser Sonny Simmons. From the first moments of the title track, seemingly boundless New Thing energy is the order of the day, the rough edges even informing the softer-grained textures and luscious clarinet and English horn counterpoint of "Afro Funk". Uhr-blues pervades the sinewy swing of "May-Lee-High-Young" as its frontline horn dissonances charge their exuberant but reflective way forward. Simmons is in especially fine form here, each utterance and gesture a testament to his rhythmic versatility and dynamic control. Despite these levels of introspection, the energy is ramped back up during the concert portion of the disc, bassist Peter Herbert and drummer Art Lewis providing scorching support on the freneticism of "The Polish Rally," bringing the disc to a highly charged conclusion.
Golden Atoms, the second recording from DuologyMarcus and trumpeter Ted Danielprovides a nice middle-ground between the inward explorations of Lotus Symphony and the thrilling high voltage of the Cosmosamatics platter. The title is as apt a descriptor as any, Marcus and Daniel exchanging dialogic fragments as they generate a surprising rhythmic drive. Even on the wistfully quiet "Ritual," there is a forward motion that might not be expected from the unusual instrumental combination. Such rhythmic concerns come to full fruition during the rousing march-like strains of "Mr. Albert Ayler," replete with pauses that somehow never decrease movement as the duo cascades, slides and whoops.
All three offerings show Marcus in top form and in contexts that allow his compositional and improvisational gifts to bloom. Adventure and tradition commingle as this music's history is affirmed and celebrated.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: As Always, Our Blessings; Seal RockBird Rock (trio); Peace People Theme; Elypsis; Sumatra; Seal RockBird Rock (duet); Lotus Symphony; As Always, Our Blessings (reprise).
Personnel: Michael Marcus: Bb clarinet; Antoine Roney: tenor saxophone (3); John Austria: piano (1, 8); Radu ben Judah: bass (1, 2, 5, 7); Rashaan Carter: bass (3, 4); Taru Alexander: drums (1, 3, 5); Jay Rosen: drums (2, 4, 6, 7).
Free Within The Law
Tracks: Free Within the Law; Afro Funk; Janet?s Moods; May-Lee-High-Young; Morning Daffodil; Ginger Root; The Polish Rally.
Personnel: Sonny Simmons: alto sax, English horn; Michael Marcus: tenor sax, Bb clarinet; Peter Herbert: bass; Art Lewis: drums.
Tracks: Atoms of the Heart; Ritual; As If; Qusim; Seeds of Consciousness; Brotherhood in Flight; Mr. Albert Ayler; The Probe; Night Parade; Un Poquito; Alternate Universe; Unanimity.
Personnel: Michael Marcus: Bb clarinet; Ted Daniel: trumpet.