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Michael Adkins: Rotator (2008)

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Michael Adkins: Rotator How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

From its very first notes, Rotator, by tenor saxophonist Michael Adkins, makes an extremely strong statement. It is a wonderful record, truly engaging, with so much happening without the slightest hint of congestion, that once over, it almost demands an immediate replay.

This is an important recording for the simple reason that the door to modern, intellectually stimulating jazz is opened widely, without ever losing touch with what is musical—physical sound, melody (or the thematic phrase) and development. Anyone wishing to dip their toes into music that is cutting edge without getting cut would do well with listening to Rotator.

Adkins literally speaks through his horn with a soft-edged but full tone that supports his logically connecting, yet elliptical phrases. Able to say more with a simple two-note descending interval than many do in an entire solo, Adkins can present such simple material refracted and "rotated" many different ways until they have expanded to fill the musical space. His feel for rhythm, while never actually stating a distinct pulse, is delicious and reinforces the adage that one can say much more by saying less.

His playing partners know precisely what his music is about and respond instantaneously to its every twist and turn, producing an atmosphere of high drama, which feels completely free and yet very tight simultaneously. Bassist John Hebert has known Adkins for about a decade, and recorded Infotation (Semblance, 2005) with him in 2000.

Hebert also has a long relationship with pianist Russ Lossing, who has built a reputation as a crystalline player, possessing both an unerring rhythmic and a daring harmonic sense. Supported by Hebert's pizzicato and arco playing, Lossing darts in and around Adkin's teasing lines, pulling them apart, commenting upon them and reworking them.

Paul Motian is the perfect drummer for this session. He is perhaps the master of implied rhythmic pulse and knows just when to tighten or loosen the reins, keeping in constant touch with what everyone else is doing—or not doing. The elasticity that Adkins sets up, which Lossing and Hebert extend, is molded and formed by Motian.

The result of these masters interacting is a recording that is easily one of the high points of this year in jazz. It has everything—very cool, laid-back swing, exhilarating, razor-sharp intensity, startling emotional intensity—all combined with a simple sense of the players having a good time.

By its end, the central falling interval of Rotator will have sunken deep into the unconscious—it was everywhere but never repeated. This is the magic of jazz.


Track Listing: Rotator; Their May Wings; Silent Screen; Pearl 21; Forena; Encrypted; Number Five; Reflection.

Personnel: Michael Adkins: tenor saxophone; Russ Lossing: piano; John Hebert: double-bass; Paul Motian: drums.

Record Label: Hat Hut Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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