Perhaps the open-mindedness of jazz at the beginning of the millennium and its absorption of a massive number of influences are the music's most notable elements. While the thirties were known for swing, the forties for bebop, the fifties for cool jazz, the late sixties and early seventies for fusion and the eighties for neo-conservatism, the late nineties and early "two thousands" may become recognized for multi-cultural awareness.
Of course, such open-mindedness creates a conflict with the preservation, or perhaps the institutionalization, of the past represented by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and repertory groups. The divergence of the two schools of thought, though, could be a catalyst for a more creative ferment as the proponents of each camp dig in their heels and search for justification for their musical expressions. While many listeners may not understand the unpredictability and vastness of interests of musicians like Don Byron, John Zorn, Bill Frisell or Dave Douglas, perhaps their restless curiosity is the point.
Such exploration of styles previously unknown to jazz isn't limited to the New York City artists, even though recognition of their work obviously is much greater because of their major-label deals and the presence of the jazz press.
From New England, Thomson Kneeland's group, Kakalla, offers equally exceptional music that digests a number of genres for the contemporary equivalent to jazz' "sound of surprise." For Kakalla can veer from the Eastern European scales and the instrumentation of klezmer to the free-spirited avant-garde improvisation within several measures. Tunes accelerate and decelerate with alacrity and consummate cohesion, as if Carl Stalling were conducting the sextet episodically in reaction to the unfolding events of a cartoon on the screen. Loping and then lurching bass lines frame the structure of a tune expressing sorrow before the lyricism of Jerry Sabatini's muted trumpet comes in with Miles-like moodiness. Sabatini and tenor saxman Jason Hunter may play serpentine lines over a minor mode involving flatted fifths and ninths before breaking out into bright, declarative solos that nudge and weave over Eric Hofbauer's offbeat rhythm guitar-like back-up.
Kneeland's intentions on The Voice Of Blood are deeper than the investigation of musical approaches just recently finding their way into jazz vocabulary. In his view, music involves the expression of common feelings. But his view is a worldviewspecifically, Weltschmerz with all of the ennui and desolation that it implies.
And where did the group's name come from? Well, "Kakalla" is the day of the Incan calendar when a young man or woman was sacrified to the gods of fertility to allow for rebirth within the fields so that the community may be nourished. So, just as you expect Kakalla to have an Eastern European or German basis, you find that it encompasses a much broader global perspective than that.
The anomaly of the music is that while admittedly the group's name and its philosophical attitude take on a lugubrious cast, you would never know it by their music. For instance, "The Beekeeper's Serenade" revels in the aural scene-setting of a beekeeper who blissfully attends to his hives before being stung in a wickedly comical Raymond Scott sort of way. Sabatini blares frantically, drummer Mike Connors depicts a clattering and crashing frenzy, Hofbauer sweetly imitates the bees' swirl, and Kneeland bows the buzz meanly and impressionistically.
"Makhol," based upon a Bulgarian 11/8 meter held together by Connors, involves a sunny trumpet development of the twisting melody before Kneeland comes in to provide a more subtle improvisation that sweeps the tune along. "Khashdan" assumes a similar temperament as Sabatini unassumingly plays the Kneeland's melody with appropriate flourish and ornaments, the triple meter contained within the more strongly rooted quarter beat.
As listeners open their ears to perceive the future development of jazzwhat with its all-consuming merging of seemingly disparate influences (such as the original 1900's combination of blues with New Orleans street march and ragtime swing)Kneeland's group definitely offers a unique perspective of its own that rewards listeners who search for it.
Track Listing: Porsheem, Eroot, The Beekeeper's Serenade, Forlorn, Makhol, This Is Not A Game, Taaloomah, Khashdan, Weltschmerz
Personnel: Thomson Kneeland, acoustic bass; Jerry Sabatini, trumpet; Jason Hunter, tenor sax; Mike Connors, drums, percussion, dumbek; Warren Amerman, Pro Tools editing