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Michael Mason and the Exploratory Ensemble: Signal (2004)

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Michael Mason and the Exploratory Ensemble: Signal No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Surprises are welcome, if they are pleasant ones. So is Michael Mason. This is his fifth release, and it is better late than never to make his acquaintance...

Mason, who wrote all the tunes except one, shows a fair sense for what makes the pulse tick. His main approach is to write sketches rather than whole pieces, but he gives the musicians room to evolve and the direction in which to mould them. He keeps “Sir James” all to himself, taking the gentleman (whose last name happens to be Newton) through a gentle tide of shifting timbre, a flutter of arpeggios and lyrical lines. He casts the rhythm base for “The Pulse of Life’s Heart,” his other solo piece, with the djembe and bodhran, filling it with shakers and other percussion for a sinuous groove as his flute dances on top. On the rest of the tracks he uses a quintet on which Steve Berry and Aras Biskis switch places.

Mason sets a whirlwind tempo on “Turbulence” and Berry lays crisp evolutions of the theme, the two conversing animatedly driven by the stirring tempo of Avreeayl Ra on drums. There is a more luminous drive from Kirk Brown on piano, all the forces then coming together in a torrid clasp. “The Spirit” moves Mason in a different way. On this mid-tempo lope, the spark is ignited first by Mason whose playing is open and clean, the improvisations leading to interesting pathways, and then by Brown, whose sense of melody and harmony add an inspired touch.

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Track Listing: Luminary; Mahjong; Signal; Amend; For Once; Sir James; Turbulence; The Spirit; The Pulse of Life

Personnel: Michael Mason

Record Label: Southport Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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