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Timbre Suite is a six-movement composition that focuses on the percussion instruments and the "sound-color" of which those instruments are capable. The suite and the titles of its movements ("Purple," "Green," etc.) are a little play on words and indeed the music has a playful quality along with great virtuosity from its four musicians: Warren I Smith (marimba, gongs, percussion), Don Eaton (djembe, congas, percussion), Salim Washington (woodwinds, percussion) and leader/drummer/percussionist Reggie Nicholson. Three of the the four have a large sound pallet summarized under the umbrella word "percussion": shakers, various drums (played with sticks, soft mallets, brushes), marimba, congas, bongos, cymbals, gongs, tambourines and wood blocks. The addition of Washington's tenor sax, oboe and flute may be in contrast to the percussion instruments, but it asks the musical question - what else do you need? "Gold"'s sax, marimba and drum set groove leads to a unique and virtuoso marimba solo by Smith. Nicholson's underpinning leads perfectly to a spectacular tenor solo, followed by Smith's re-entry, accompanying and conversing with saxophone. This is just one example of the album's refreshing sonic mix. On "Brown," Nicholson sets up a gracefully floating jazz waltz that again pairs the marimba with woodwinds (this time, oboe) for an eight-measure phrase that function as both a melody and ostinato.
If Timbre Suite was composed to feature percussion instruments - and yet ironically showcases so much extraordinary playing from Washington's woodwinds - it might be considered doubly ironic that Surreal Feel, featuring four of the area's best brass players in Joe Daley (tuba), Vincent Chancey (French horn), James Zollar (trumpet) and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), often has Nicholson as the featured soloist.
Nicholson seems to have learned well from Henry Threadgill and Muhal Richard Abrams how to write advantageously for the instruments, using melody, harmony and counterpoint to put together uncommon and attractive forms. For example, the opening dissonant four-horn counterpoint of "Celestials" is answered by the four 'limbs' of the drum set, before brass returns, leading into a five-voice improvisation. "Morning Breeze" (in the traditionally somber key of D minor) presents Nicholson on the vibraphone in a reflective mood, inside a slow and sustained tone poem that also demonstrates the great sound that each musician gets from his instrument. Unlike Timbre Suite, there are 12, mostly short, pieces on Surreal Feel, several very short solo statements, as in "Frhorn," "Bingvi" (a vibes solo by the leader), "Trumpet," etc. Yet the real jewels of the CD are the ones that emphasize the entire ensemble as a function of Nicholson's writing: "I Should Have Left Well Enough Alone," "Looking Forward," "Internal," "Local Express" and the aforementioned "Celestials".
These two marvelous CDs reveal how fortunate we are to have such a productive and creative musician living in New York City as a member of AACM's New York chapter.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Purple; Green; Gold; Blue; Brown; Orange.
Personnel: Warren Smith, marimba, gongs, percussion; Don Eaton, djembe, congas, percussion; Salim Washington, woodwinds, percussion; Reggie Nicholson, drums, bass drum, percussion.
Tracks: Celestials; Frorn; Internal; Surreal Feel; Vibes; Local Express; Tumonba; Morning Breeze; Trumpet; I Should Have Left Well Enough Alone; Bingvi; Looking Forward.
Personnel: Joseph Daley, tuba; Vincent Chancey, French horn; James Zollar, trumpet; Curtis Fowlkes, trombone; Reggie Nicholson, drums, vibraphone.