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Chad Fowler: Alien Skin


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Chad Fowler: Alien Skin
Although the group responsible for Alien Skin might be a one-off, unlikely to meet again in this exact configuration, it contains sufficient prior connections to vouchsafe cohesion, to go with the undoubted quality. Bassist William Parker furnishes the common denominator, having previously recorded with all of the participants, even relative newcomer, reed player Zoh Amba, while pianist Matthew Shipp's releases with saxophonist Ivo Perelman are legendary and abundant. Label boss reedman Chad Fowler hooks up regularly with drummer Steve Hirsh, but he also boasts a duo session with Shipp, Old Stories (Mahakala Music, 2022) in his resumé. So the constellations align and the results do not disappoint.

Parker's bowed introduction to "Occupation Day 2" starts the album on a high. Thereafter, for an opener, it proceeds in a remarkably somber fashion given the fire-breathing rep of many of the cast. But as the triumvirate of woodwinds exchanges long tones in a gently braying chorus, the entreaties gradually turn restive and beseeching, conjuring a palpable sense of anguish. Such communion between the three reeds, or permutations thereof, proves one of the enduring attractions of a set in which individual flames burn in only the briefest of bright vignettes.

Even as convener of the assembled crew, Fowler—who achieves a raw urgency courtesy of the unusual combination of a stritch (a straight alto saxophone) and saxello (a richly-hewed soprano with a kink) both beloved by Rahsaan Roland Kirk—sublimates himself to the collective aesthetic. Amba, who flaunts a similarly soul-drenched approach on tenor saxophone, favors the repeated spiritual-adjacent motifs which infused dates such as O Life, O Light Vol. 1 (577 Records, 2022) with such passion, but which also serve to add a valuable hint of form to the impromptu intermingling here. Of the three horns, perhaps surprisingly it is Perelman who takes the most consistently supportive role, although each picks up on what the others are saying and variously harmonizes, intertwines and embellishes.

As its title intimates, "In Pairs" comprises a series of spontaneous duets, of which the fluttering, querulous yet sanctified tandem of Shipp and Amba is the pick, that each maintains a notably restrained mood, continued even in the group tutti closing out the track. As the session progresses the temperature rises. The ensuing title cut comes on like a jubilant, praise-giving hoedown, with Fowler belting out an insistent figure like a rallying cry, while "Sentient Sentiment" begins as an uneasy ballad but erupts into a glorious swirl only to finish in a martial groove.

The spur-of-the-moment interaction veers seductively between everyone seemingly soloing simultaneously and everyone supporting everyone else. Just occasionally the listener might pine for someone to pursue an unbroken narrative, to develop an idea for more than a few phrases. But that perhaps is for another occasion. Here the ensemble is key, and when it is done with such accomplishment that should be reward enough.

Track Listing

Alien Skin; Broken Language; In Pairs; Occupation Day; Sentient Sentiment.


Steve Hirsh: drums; Chad Fowler: saxophone, alto; Ivo Perelman: saxophone, tenor; Matthew Shipp: piano; William Parker: bass.

Additional Instrumentation

Chad Fowler: stritch, saxello; Zoh Amba: tenor saxophone, flute.

Album information

Title: Alien Skin | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Mahakala Music

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