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In the late 1990s, New Yorkers became enamored with a brash group of freewheeling improvisers from Atlanta going under the name Gold Sparkle Band. The chemistry of their fresh and ambitious style clicked with the New York establishment, and the group members soon began integrating with the entrenched Downtown musicians in taking the music forward at events like the Vision Festival and venues where free speech was practiced.
Drummer Andrew Barker and reed player Charles Waters are charter members of the original group. On this recording garnered from a presentation of their music at Tonic, pianist Matthew Shipp joins them for an exciting set where the musicians' output intertwines with maze-like complexity.
The music is spontaneous. It unfolds in numerous chapters from a revolving series of mixes and matches by the trio. Waters churns out spirals of dancing light on clarinet, underpinned by the dense and elaborate piano phrasing of Shipp. This inspires Barker to leap into the fray as he constructs deeply hued drum solos of weighty proportions. Reenter Waters, who lightens the haze with scintillating runs on alto saxophone. The program circles through these solo/duo/trio segments while the cord of light/dark energy ties the divergent ends together.
All encounters find the artists challenged by the immediacy of the collective conversation. Shipp manufactures clusters of momentum-building notes while displaying his preference for the lower end of the sound spectrum. His surging flights form concrete blocks that elevate the music in layers of emotion and tension. The impact is immediate, allowing Waters to drive his woodwinds into frenzied zones of meaningful improvisation. When Shipp and Barker converse, the music becomes profoundly massive with an occult sense of foreboding. Waters’ injection of sunrays causes the dawn to break with signals of hope meliorating the storm.
Each solo, pairing, or collective development brings with it mood swings, but the performance taken as a whole flows as a series of united processesincluding the final cut, where Shannon Fields surreptitiously merges material from the previous seven using electronics. The musicians expound in their own unique language, but the communication is immediate and the message conceptually understood and cognitively processed by each of them. Barker, Shipp, and Waters generate demanding music with a welcome and satisfying degree of originality.