Raph: Looking East: A Suite In Three Parts (2002)
Spread over two spacious discs the largely improvised epic hatched from the mind of Malik on this set shows both the substantial promise of its composer and the superlative talent of the players chosen to perform it. The recording fidelity is a shade brittle and flat, particularly in reference to Moffett’s traps but the dynamic breadth of the band is still largely preserved. Mateen moves amongst his reeds like a man possessed channeling furious gusts of breath through each one, often with typhoon force. His excursions into the squealing upper registers are near countless in number, but every foray is marked by supreme control of embouchure and phrasing. Malik deals liberally in brash staccato bursts spraying notes one moment, reverting to harsh, but contemplative melodic progressions the next. In either instance his imposing technique and impeccable tone are on grand display. Roland alternates been supple walking lines and fractured percussive strums matching Moffett in both terms of intensity and drive. The drummer’s sound veers dangerously close to uncontrolled bombast on several occasions, but the sheer vigor of his pounding sticks whips up enough muscular force to easily forgive such near transgressions.
The suites sectionals are brimming with all manner of hairpin harmonic turns and rhythmic about-faces and the four players sound as if they are collectively reveling in the challenge presented by Malik’s nefarious compositional designs. Toward the close of the opening “Zero Grade” the horns drop out and Moffett executes and unexpected shift to brushes, losing none of his momentum in the switch. The re-entry of the horns follows a plummeting course into silence and well-earned applause. “Fractals” swirls in a sea of anthemic swing buoyed by Moffett’s power-hungry press rolls. Tying Gordian knots in each other’s lines Malik and Mateen good-naturedly goad each other to increasingly expressive heights, each man blowing a tornado’s worth of wind through his respective horn. Through entire piece the rhythmic center is sustained on a bouncing, almost Latin, beat. Moffett again ups the ante on “The Old Your Majesty” working in sync with Roland to craft a terrain of sliding, undulating grooves for Mateen cavernous clarinet to tread boldly across. Malik is similarly sure-footed in his own solo excursions darting and jabbing between craggy snare rolls and syncopated snare breaks like a pugilist possessed by the desire to win a title bout. Later sections of the suite follow itineraries of equal extremity raising the bar on every available occasion and in the process prodding the players to some enticingly expressive heights. Even the more reposeful interludes exude a crackly energy.
Listening to the recorded document it’s easy to conceive of the concert as an at once exhilarating and exhausting document. The players were as demanding on the audience as they were on themselves and their instruments. Thankfully we’re all the better for their decision not to compromise intensity and integrity in the name of accessibility.
Track Listing: Disc One: Zero Grade/ Fractals/ The Old Your Majesty/ The New Majesty. Disc Two: Reversal/ Smooth Moffetting/ Encore: Cosmic G.