Sabir Mateen: URDLA XXX (2010)
It must have been some surprise when Sabir Mateen, already playing, strode into the centre of URDLA, the Parisian engraving workshop where a hundred guests were convened for a celebration of its 30th anniversary. Mateen had been commissioned as a special guest to appear on the stroke of midnight. Solo concerts are not the rite of passage they were for a saxophonist back in the 1970s test bed of free jazz creativity, and their infrequency means it still takes a healthy dose of chutzpah to expose oneself to such scrutiny.
A notable fixture on New York City's Lower East Side scene, Mateen contributes his mellifluous reed starbursts to the improvising collective TEST, William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, and, more recently, Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite (CJR, 2005). He already has one solo disc to his name in This Is the Meaning of Life Center (NoLabels, 2004), but whereas that comprised a single piece, which, surprisingly for someone with such a volcanic reputation, gave the feel of introspective private discourse, URDLA XXX is a more rounded performance. Mateen's entrance intersperses vocal cries with tinkling bells before an ear-grabbing eruption of molten sound from the bell of his alto clarinet, and he goes on to cycle through eight more pieces in the 51-minute performance.
"Music Is Sound and Sound Is Music" is a spoken rap on the nature of music, accompanied by tinkling percussion, which segues into "Jimmy Lyons," a litany of controlled whistles in the altissimo register of his alto saxophone quite unlike its dedicatee. As with the other selections on offer, it displays the reedman's unconstrained invention and love of the extremes, tempered by an underlying soulfulness. Melody does make more of an appearance than might be expected from Mateen, not least on "One for the Rev.Rev. Frank Wright," where the saxophonist's initial theme has more than nodding acquaintance with "Bye Bye Blackbird" before passing through the prism of blues abstraction.
As the closing strains of the rich, introverted "Blessing to You" fade away, Mateen takes the deserved applause and thanks his impromptu audience after what has been a challenging though warmly accessible recital.
Track Listing: The City of Lyon; Art Dance; Dakka Du Boo Yu!; Music Is Sound and Sound Is Music; Jimmy Lyons; Sekasso Blues; One for the Rev.--Rev. Frank Wright; More Than a Hammer and Nail; Blessing to You.
Personnel: Sabir Mateen: alto clarinet, alto saxophone, small percussion, vocal.