Hilary Noble is a horn-playing percussionist who has been mining a synthesis of free jazz and Latin music that is profoundly fresh and emotionally overwhelming. This, his second release, finds him exquisitely matched with pianist Rebecca Cline, who likewise shares his noble pursuit of a unique amalgam of experimental jazz and Latin music. Backed by the hyperkinetic rhythm section of electric bassist Fernando Huergo and drummer Steve Langone, they have created the most spectacularly original and memorable Latin jazz I've heard in years.
While a few of the nine tunes on Enclave are showcases for the group members' considerable individual talents, the high points of this recording draw upon their mutual synergy. Often ping-ponging between Afro-Cuban and free jazz rhythms and tone colors, occasionally oscillating between Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban grooves, Noble and Cline zoom in and out of rhythmic vamps and clashing harmonies with a restless and constantly zestful spirit. "Viva Freire" is a compelling example of this give-and-take play among Cuba, Brazil, and terra incognita.
Noble maintains a fat, supple, and soulful tone on tenor and alto saxophone and a sharply dissonant sound on soprano saxophone, and while I can hear his roots in Coleman Hawkins, David Murray, and David S. Ware, he has very much his own signature. Cline's percussive piano style seems rooted in both Cecil Taylor and those moments when Chucho Valdez "goes Cecil" and plays the riotously dissonant forms of son montuno. Cline and Noble together are consistently alert to the surprising transitions in the complex, polyrhythmic workouts that Noble composes. The energy level cascading from their inspired collaboration borders on overwhelming.
"Dark Nebula," a pensive ballad which gives solo space to Huergo, is a relatively pastoral spot in this rich tropical storm of an album. I could imagine it as part of a Sun Ra tribute concert in Cuba.
Enclave gets my vote for the best jazz CD of the year. It's fun and intellectually challenging, flawlessly performed yet marked by a spontaneous elan. Best of all, this kind of free jazz/Latin jazz synthesis promises to open doors to other artists aiming for something other than recycled Machito.