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The Keith Yaun Quintet: Countersink

Robert Spencer By

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This disc arouses a curious sense of dissociation, which seems to be exactly what the musicians intended. The opening track, drummer Johnny McLellan's "Durt Kolphy," is based on riffs (according to the liner notes) copped from Kurt Cobain and Eric Dolphy. This already lumpy mix is made even lumpier by the instrumentation of electric guitar (leader Keith Yaun), electric violin (the justifiably celebrated Mat Maneri) and tenor sax (Nathan Cook), with bassist John Lockwood and McLellan. The soloists seem in one way to inhabit different worlds; yet there is an indescribable symmetry between the honest-to-goodness Dolphyan sounds Cook manages to coax from his tenor, the Arctic jazz guitar of Yaun, and the post-Ornette Coleman violin of Mat Maneri.

Not just on the first track, but throughout the album, there is a fraternal contrast set up between Yaun's almost Grant Green cool (although he plays far from the inside track Grant ran, and reaches for a few rock-inspired licks on "Countersink" and here and there on other tracks) and the postmodern angularity and passion of Cook, with Maneri singing and swinging in between. Of course, some of the best music is created from such contrasts: Miles vs. Coltrane, Lacy vs. Rudd. On Maneri's "Longer Inches" Yaun and Cook explore much the same harmonic territory in back-to-back solos, but once again the different sonic hefts of their instruments (and the gradual tension Cook builds with Evan Parkerian muttering) lends to that strange dissociation; Maneri's solo, angular and fragmentary, achieves a kind of synthesis.

The lugubrious and aptly-named "Heavy Hand of Love" begins much more softly, but with no less tension; after an extended build up Cook breaks out to explore more energetic musings, with Maneri accentuating them keenly - but then it all comes to naught, until another initiative (this one from Maneri) starts the thing over again. The more upbeat title track, "Collide" and "Right Much?" also seems to drift in an atmosphere of fragmentation and dissociation. By contrast, the brief "Runup #1" and "Runup #2" are full of Dolphyan/Ornetteish energy and cohesiveness.

An interesting and disturbing album, full of tension and unexpected shifts. There are a number of fine moments, especially when the players subtly accent a phrase or a mood in a solo. A quintet of five talented and promising musicians, from whom no doubt much more will be heard.


Title: Countersink | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Leo Records

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