"You might say jazz came from the sun priests of Egypt opined Sun Ra, and while trumpeter Roy Campbell might not be so forthright, he has long been inspired by the nation alongside the Nile. One of Campbell's most enduring ensembles is the Pyramid Trio. In some ways this suite follows the trajectory delineated by that combo, with a swinging world music lilt allied to taut free-bop and incisive outside elements. Not that there is anything daunting about this well recorded live set, with nagging tunes which gnaw into memory, evoking an updated Blue Note groove, accentuated by the harmonic ambiguity of the vibes. I've listened to this disc a lot of times with steadily mounting pleasure.
A long time collaborator of William Parker, Campbell is one of the luminaries of the NYC free jazz firmament, whose associations stretch from Rashied Ali to John Zorn and almost everyone else in between. Blending his violin into the front line is Campbell's old Bronx buddy Billy Bang, alongside vibraharpist Bryan Carrott, underpinned by drummer Zen Matsuura, harping back to earlier versions of the Pyramid Trio, and the increasingly ubiquitous Hilliard Greene on bass. The Akhenaten Suite is one of three commissions by Arts for Arts Inc premiered at the 2007 Vision Festival, with remaining sessions by William Parker and Bill Dixon scheduled for release later this year. The three part, seven track work was inspired by the pharaoh Akhenaten who may have been the father of Tutankhamen, the child king who succeeded him.
Campbell's trumpet and flugelhorn shine with fiery incandescence; declamatory and punchy one minute, slurring and blurting with casual aplomb the next. A master of tension and release, Bang contributes a powerful rhythmic attack, building off the themes into soaring sonic edifices. Carrott both adds to the lush ensemble palette and steps out with passages where chiming bells mutate into clanging discords. Greene, a rumbling presence anchoring the ensemble, revels in pizzicato cameos on the opening and closing pieces, while Matsuura's driving polyrhythms freely swing the ensemble without settling into a steady meter, until the closing "Sunset on the Nile (not the Sun Ra tune of the same name).
Melodic and rhythmic felicities abound bracketing compelling solo excursions, from Campbell's fiery trumpet on the darkly funky "Pharaoh's Revenge Part 1, to Carrott's stirring exhibition on the loping "Pharaoh's Revenge Part 2. Impressionistic scene setters precede both parts of "Pharaoh's Revenge with Campbell doubling on twittering recorder or the double reeded arghul, against the evocative ensemble backdrops. On the processional "Atem and Amarna Bang and Campbell essay a stately unison which deconstructs into a sinuous intertwining.
At the end, Campbell hopes we enjoyed the journey and this listener certainly did, sufficient to recommend to anyone taken by Campbell's work with his Pyramid Trio or Bang's recent Vietnam recordings. Even after years of endeavour by Sun Ra, Campbell proves that there is still ample unexplored artistic space open for interpretation in the land of the Pharaohs.
Akhenaten (Amenhotp) Intro. Part 1; Aten And Anarna; Pharaoh's Revenge Part 1; Pharaoh's Revenge
(Tutankhamon) Intro Part 2; Pharaoh's Revenge Part 2; Sunset On The Nile.
Roy Campbell: trumpet, flugelhorn, recorder, arghul; Billy Bang: violin; Bryan Carrott: vibraharp; Hillard Greene:
bass; Zen Matsuura: drums.