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The City of Chicago is more than just a prominent “Blues” town. Major advancements in modern jazz/improvisation have been propelling this town into one of the most vital sources of creative, free-spirited jazz on the planet. Other than renowned jazz musicians such as Muhal Richard Abrams and The Art Ensemble of Chicago to name but a few, flourishing record labels such as “Southport Records” are showing the modern jazz world that there are other artists willing to advance matters to the next logical level. While Chicago based saxophonist-improviser Ken Vandermark is seemingly grabbing all the headlines these days, we now turn our heads to woodwind specialist Paul Scea and percussionist Damon Short on this new CD titled, Balance of Power - “Improvisations for reeds & percussion”.
Here, Short and Scea trade ideas and perform as a mini-band on these series of duets also featuring bass trumpeter, Ryan Shultz on two tracks. On occasion, improvisational based duet formats don’t always pan out as some artists tend to compete with one another – as though the intentions were geared towards cutting contests or forums for extended soloing..... Thankfully, the story unfolds a bit differently here as told on the opening piece, “Zero Generation Language”. Here, Paul Scea utilizes his flute as if it were an extension of his vocal chords while he concocts a distinctly laconic language in near perfect harmony with Damon Short’s melodic “tom-tom” fills as the themes and dialogue depict circular movement. From the onset it becomes quite apparent that these gents are in synch as an underlying motive or plan has been set to action! The piece titled, “Breath” features the captivating if not soul searching soprano sax work of Scea while Short provides the complimentary yet contrasting elements with effective use of his cymbals, various percussion instruments and “slight” treatments. These pieces, while outwardly improvisational convey structure and direction. Bass trumpeter, Ryan Schultz enhances the bottom end on “MLC” while Short’s drumming and Scea’s deterministic tenor sax performances paint somewhat of a surreal picture as the men partake in alternating dialogue summoning vivid imagery of colorful prisms or diffused lighting. On “Impending Downpour” Scea once again picks up his tenor sax supplemented by Short’s syncopated rhythms featuring a resonant bass drum that efficiently compensates for the lack of a bassist. A compelling vibes and flute duet on “Village Politics” segues into the title track, “Balance of Power” as Scea blows powerful, lyrically rich lines on tenor sax while the fellows engage in a furious modern jazz swing somewhat reminiscent of the legendary Coltrane/Rashied Ali – soaring skyward – approach.... This diverse set closes with an ambient, serene still-life piece title
Paul Scea and Damon Short due achieve a Balance of Power by combining wit, savvy and intelligence yet also display synergy and a sense of oneness. These gents transfer their respective energies as though they are momentarily relinquishing control or switching gears, in order to maintain a good cruising speed yet put matters in turbo-mode when called upon. Balance of Power is an impressive - meeting of the minds! * * * * ½Instrumentation/
Instrumentation/ Paul Scea; Flutes, Bass Clarinet, Soprano and Tenor saxes, Piano Strings, Voice: Damon Short; Vibes, Drums, Cymbals, Percussion, Piano, Voice: Ryan Shultz; Bass Trumpet on two tracks.
Southport web: www.chicagosound.com (real jazz ... made in Chicago)
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.