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Marilyn Mazur: Celestial Circle

John Kelman By

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Celestial Circle might appear to be a conventional, piano trio-based vocal record on the surface, but it's an impression quickly dismissed with a closer look at its participants. Marilyn Mazur knows her way around a drum kit in no uncertain terms, but it's her more integrated approach, with an oft-times massive array of percussion—gongs, wood blocks, pots and other things that can be struck with hands, sticks and brushes—that has allowed the American-born/Denmark-raised and resident percussionist to evolve a more pan-cultural approach to rhythm, color and groove. Not that Mazur can't swing in a conventional fashion; she just chooses not to—or, rather, she swings in her own peculiar way.

Celestial Circle leans further away from orthodoxy with the return of two artists who've been conspicuously absent from the ECM label in recent years. Last heard on pianist Bobo Stenson's Cantando (2009), it doesn't take long to realize just how much Swedish bassist Anders Jormin's resonant tone and singing lines have been missed. Jormin's ability to lock with Mazur into a spare but dancing groove, during pianist John Taylor's solo on "Winterspell," juxtaposes with his soaring arco and motivic harmonics earlier in this dark-hued piece—one of a handful of Mazur compositions interspersed, on Celestial Circle, with solo, duo and trio improvisations.

Continuing work with another ex-ECMer (trumpeter Kenny Wheeler) and a member of drummer Peter Erskine's seminal ECM trio throughout the 1990s, Taylor makes his first label appearance since violinist Mark Feldman's What Exit (2006), and his ability to combine trenchant lyricism and soft but angular voicings remains inescapably commanding, but in the most understated of ways. There's little overt virtuosity here, though it's never in question. Taylor contributes one composition, the opening "Your Eyes," and his expressive touch and contrapuntal interplay with Jormin and singer Josefine Cronholm are quickly established, affirming a chemistry built, despite this being the quartet's first recording, since its inception in 2008.

Mazur records relatively infrequently for the label, this being but her third as a leader following the all-improv solo/duo recording, Elixir (2008), with label staple/saxophonist Jan Garbarek, with whom the percussionist has also toured and recorded for many years. As much as her writing gives Celestial Circle its context, it's the nine improvised miniatures—most under three minutes—that give the album its shape. Cronholm may wear the influence of Norma Winstone on her sleeve in the composed material, but in the improvs, she asserts her own voice, as rhythmical as it is melodic.

Mazur's clearly a democratic leader, but astute choices always bring her voice to the proceedings, whether it's the cymbals at the start of "Color Sprinkle," or the clay pot that gives "Temple Chorus" its pulse, as she joins Conholm in voice, as she also does on the more joyful, tuned percussion-driven "Among the Trees."

It may not follow piano trio conventions, but of Mazur's own recordings for ECM, including 1997's Future Songs, Celestial Circle stands as her most readily accessible, even as it explores roads less traveled, with a group already possessed of a distinctive and singular collective voice.

Track Listing: Your Eyes; Winterspell; Kildevaeld; Gentle Quest; Secret Crystals; Temple Chorus; Antilope Arabesque; Chosen Darkness; Among the Trees; Color Sprinkle; Tour Song; Drumrite; Oceanique; Transcending.

Personnel: John Taylor: piano; Josefine Cronholm: voice; Anders Jormin: double bass; Marilyn Mazur: drums, percussion, voice.

Title: Celestial Circle | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records

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