Slumgum / Hugh Ragin: The Sky His Own (2012)
The third release of the young Los Angeles-based, Cal Arts-educated Slumgum attempts to expand its musical universe. This inventive quartet already defined its rich aesthetic, drawing from diverse influences like jazz, free improvisation, world music and modern classical music, stressing a vivid sense of exploration and adventure with close and supportive interplay. On The Sky His Own, the quartet hosts veteran cornetist Hugh Ragin, who has collaborated with such important musicians as Roscoe Mitchell, Clark Terry, David Murray and Sun Ra. Ragin deepens Slumgum's tendency to explore freer sonic territories.
After the playful and melodic introduction of "Zoyoki Gnoki," Ragin sweeps the quartet into an energetic and muscular space on his "Cornet News; Farewell." Ragin's expressive, well-crafted solo flows with ideas, colors and melodies and challenges Slumgum's musicians. Soprano saxophonist Jon Armstrong is the first to follow Ragin, with a wild, dense solo. Later, pianist Rory Cowal, bassist Dave Tranchina and drummer Trevor Anderies follow, with shorter solos that reconstruct this sophisticated composition from its bare components. Slumgum and Ragin tour marching bands in New Orleans on the contemplative "Farewall," with brief quotes from the American national anthem by Ragin and Armstrong. Structured around fast post-bop chord changes, "Bread and Butter" highlights Slumgum's shared, close interplay with Ragin, who leads with another expansive, brilliant solo.
"Mayday" slows the pace and enables Ragin and Armstrong to lead with gentle and emotional duet, later followed by Cowal's short, spare piano solo. Cowal continues with a meditative and resonant introduction to "Kyo," abstracted with Anderies' imaginative bells and Ragin and Armstrong's thoughtful breaths, until the composition's gentle melody gains volume and volition. The slow-burning, 15-minute "Inherent Vibrations" stresses Slumgum's need to explore, spontaneously new musical terrains with open-ended dynamics and democratic interplay . Slumgum and Ragin finish with "Minuet," a return to joyful, melodic celebration of the opening piece.
A beautiful, inspired collaboration.
Track Listing: Zoyoki Gnoki; Silver Cornet News; Farewell; Bread and Butter; Mayday; Kyo; Inherent Vibrations; Minuet.
Personnel: Hugh Ragin: cornet; Jon Armstrong: tenor and soprano saxophones; Rory Cowal: piano; Dave Tranchina: bass; Trevor Anderies: drums.