While he has recorded less frequently as a leader than some his age, trumpeter High Ragin's career as a music educator in Denver, Colorado certainly hasn't prevented him from wider exposure with a variety of artists including Roscoe Mitchell, David Murray and, oddly enough, even Maynard Ferguson. But it is with the Creative Music Studio in the '70s that he whet his musical teeth and, consequently, his musical affiliation with the Afro-centric concepts of the Art Ensemble of Chicago will come as no surprise. Revelation
finds Ragin in a brash quartet that demonstrates all the freedom of the Art Ensemble, with a strong penchant for swing and the blues, albeit in a more liberated form.
Enlisting the inestimable rhythm team of bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake was clearly an inspired choice. From rubato passages like that opening the fifteen-minute title track to the skewed rhythm and blues of "Kamal's Gift," Parker and Hamid create a solid foundation while managing to imbue the looser exploratory sense that they demonstrated on their recent tour with Parker's own O'Neal's Porch Quartet. Israeli reed player Assif Tsahar, well-known in the New York free scene and no stranger to Parker and Drake, has formidable abilities, both traditional and extended.
And what of Ragin? With classical technique coupled with the more outer-reaching and emancipated attitude of Lester Bowie, he embodies a deep spirituality that underpins the entire record. From the swinging "Night Life" to the bold and aggressive "Speak to the Mountain," Ragin plays with an energy and commitment to trust and interplay between the players that elevates the session.
At times difficult to digest because of its density, Revelation is, nevertheless, an intriguing combination of the jazz tradition with European art house music. While clearly limited in its appeal, fans of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Albert Ayler's work will find much to like about Ragin's concept.
Personnel: Hugh Ragin (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, pocket trumpet), Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, musette), William Parker (bass, musette, pocket trumpet), Hamid Drake (drums, percussion)