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Album Review

Chad Fowler: Alien Skin


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Chad Fowler: Alien Skin
Freely improvised music, saxophonist Paul Flaherty dubbed it "the hated music." Experiencing Alien Skin brings to mind another quote, this one from a shampoo commercial from the late 1980s: "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." A beautiful alchemy is this session captured in the fall of 2021. It contains a three-horn front line of Chad Fowler, Ivo Perelman and Zoh Amba, plus pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker, and drummer Steve Hirsh.

I reference alchemy because the quintet does transform something extraordinary from nothing. Strike the word "nothing" consider the years of experience and more than 1,000 recording sessions credited to these five musicians. Fowler and Hirsh are the principals behind this new and exciting label Mahakala Music, and it has championed the relatively new phenom Zoh Amba. She can be heard on Chad Anderson's Mellifluous Excursions (Vol. 1): Where You Been (2022), An Unikely Place (2022) with Hirsh and Luke Stewart, and Bhakti (2022), her debut release as a leader. Parker, Perelman, and Shipp need no introduction as they have been ambassadors of the New York creative scene for decades now.

The 65-minute studio session is comprised of two lengthy (19+ minutes) tracks, and three shorter improvisations. "Occupation Day 2" opens with Parker's bowed bass and some searching commentary by Shipp and Hirsh. As the saxophonists find their footing, the music gains momentum. The impulse is often keyed upon one or another saxophonist suggesting a direction with the others responding in kind. The track evolves into a bluesy swing before circling back upon Parker's bowed attack and a cessation of sound. "In Pairs" is just that, first a saxophone/ piano duo, followed by saxophone/bass, and saxophone/drums duos before all six reconvene and turn the heat up on their fire music. The title track is the free jazz version of bar-walking jump jazz with equal amounts of shout and shiver. Amba switches to flute for "Sentient Sentiment" and back to tenor saxophone for the ending conflagration of sound. "Broken Language" ends the session with its hesitant pulse. Shipp's piano and Hirsh's stuttering drums guide the flicker and flutter of the saxophones and flute, keeping the affair unbalanced and knife-edge exciting.

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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