What a pleasant surprise. When a group named Anishana records an album built around Native American themes and concepts, the inclination is to withhold judgment while preparing for the worst. Yes, Anishana is an Algonquin-derived term meaning "where do you come from?" And yes, Anishana loosely bases the music in Corners of the Sky on Native American customs and beliefs. The good news is that those indigenous Americans evidently had jazz chops no one suspected and swung like plumage in a windstorm.
In other words, even while giving tribal music its due, Anishana never loses sight of its purpose as a contemporary jazz ensemble, which is to blend whatever music is at hand into the over-arching sphere of sophisticated harmonies and rhythms as they relate to present-day audiences. There are, to be sure, moments wherein the music that inspired Anishana's perspective is very much alive, but they serve for the most part as a springboard for patterns that may rest more easily in the ears of listeners who are more attuned to contemporary sounds. The album's ten tracks include three brief "interludes" in which flautist Hawk Henries is featured. Co-leader Hilary Noble recast a trio of Native American songs in the jazz idiom while his counterpart, Greg Snedeker, adapted another and added a pair of his original compositions. The closing "Sun Circle" is uncredited.
The bright-eyed opener, "Bear Raven Dance," is an unabashed swinger with muscular solos by Noble on tenor saxophone and Snedeker on piano amplifying impressive rhythmic support from bassist Will Slater and drummer Steve Langone. After the first brief "Interlude," Native American chants introduce Snedeker's "Blackfoot Blueprint," a medium-tempo charmer on which Snedeker moves to Fender Rhodes for another crisp solo before Noble checks in with one of his own. Noble arranged the pensive "Peyote Blues," Snedeker the buoyant "Choh-Kon," each of which leans more heavily on the jazz canon than Native American tradition. After Henries' second interlude, the folkloric heritage claims center stage on "Arapaho Ghost Dance" (featuring Henries' admirable flute work) and "Shizhone Meditations," a showcase for Snedeker's meditative piano, as is the brief "Sun Circle" for Henries' flute.
Speaking of brief, the album's playing time is thirty-six minutes, a detail that may cause no concern but should at least be noted. Setting that aside, what we have is a session of bright and eloquent contemporary jazz handsomely built around a Native American framework. Mission accomplished.
Bear Raven Dance, Fluttering, Blackfoot Blueprint, Peyote Blues, Name of Band, Choh-Kon,
Living Instruments, Arapaho Ghost Dance, Shizhane Meditation, Sun Circle