Rhapsodalia and Five Agents are comparable yet unique quintets led by instrumental wizard Edward Ratliff. His work on cornet, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, accordion, celeste, and even Fender Rhodes makes you want to tap your foot, be social, and clank wine glasses (better yet beer pints). Early last month, Five Agents graced Barbès (one of Brooklyn's better informal spaces to hear jazz and improvisation) as part of the weekly "Night of the Ravished Limbs series curated by baritone/alto saxophonist Michael Attias (a member of both of Ratliff's groups).
Two obvious differences between the ensembles are the additional guests (Rhapsodalia's "friends include bass clarinetist Andy Biskin, guitarist Doug Wieselman, and various others) and the players handling drums/percussion (Kevin Norton is Rhapsodalia's drummer, while hand percussionist Yousif Sharon played various traditional hand and frame drums with Five Agents). These two varied contexts are squarely met by Ratliff's writing and arranging. His compositions for both groups are well thought out, mood-inducing movements and are cinematically suite-like (it actually was composed for a short film comprised almost entirely of black and white stills).
The live performance of "Barcelona the CD's catchy recurring theme on four occasions, including two band renditions, an accordion-bass duo with John Hebert, and an unaccompanied accordion versionfeatured Attias on baritone saxophone and Five Agent violinist Marlene Rice replacing Rhapsodalia's Sam Bardfeld.
"Sintuba, the lively closer, was the second and only other piece played at Barbès also to appear on the CD. On each piece Attias proves to be a perfect foil, central to Ratliff's multi-layered arrangementshis fluidity on the characteristically unwieldy instrument should be more widely recognized. Performing on the burly horn as if it were an exotic reed instrument, he offered smooth arco lines like a deep bowed contrabass and even blasted pops and squealed flurries. His work on alto quickly reveals how he transferred such mobility to the larger reed instrument. Attias is the sole holdover between the groups, and one can hear why.
Personnel: Michael Attias: alto and baritone saxophones; Sam Bardfeld: violin; John Hebert: bass;
Kevin Norton: drums; Edward Ratliff: cornet, trombone, accordion, celeste, Fender Rhodes;
Andy Biskin: bass clarinet; Charlie Giordano: accordion; Chris Kelly: programming, guitar,
drums; Seido Salifoski: dumbek; Doug Wieselman: guitar.
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