281

Empty Cage Quartet: Gravity

Troy Collins By

Sign in to view read count
Empty Cage Quartet: Gravity Widely admired for its intricate mathematical construction, the Mayan calendar is far more than just a lightning rod for misguided prophets predicting the end of the world; it is also the source of inspiration for Gravity, the fourth studio recording from the young West Coast-based Empty Cage Quartet.

The album consists of two extended compositions, which are broken into sections and alternated throughout the session. "Gravity" and "Tzolkien" rely on combinations of pitch palindromes and symmetrical harmonic and rhythmic sequences derived from calendar-based number series to yield an endless variety of thematic variations. Despite such meticulous frameworks, the written material is designed to provide additional avenues for group improvisation, which the quartet invests with the same freewheeling enthusiasm that has defined their oeuvre since their inception.

The Empty Cage Quartet, comprised of saxophonist Jason Mears, trumpeter Kris Tiner, bassist Ivan Johnson and percussionist Paul Kikuchi, has been building on the piano-less quartet innovations of Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton since 2003. Collectively, the members of the ensemble have studied with such luminaries as Wadada Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Vinny Golia, Milford Graves and Charlie Haden—legendary artists whose individualism informs the group's singular aesthetic.

Although "Gravity" and "Tzolkien" may sound like formalist exercises on paper, in practice the quartet brings these labyrinthine pieces to life, investing contrapuntal melodies, cantilevered harmonies and compound meters with unflinching enthusiasm. Using the prescribed structure of each piece as a guide rather than a constraint, they range free and loose, bringing a raw, unfettered sensibility to the proceedings.

Fraught with harsh angles, stop-start rhythms and odd meters, these modular compositions defy simple analysis, yet never sound academic. Mears and Tiner wax opulent harmonies over Johnson and Kikuchi's calibrated undertow, with each member contributing equally to the quartet's intimate four-way conversations. Their approach to each section varies, veering from atmospheric introspection ("Tzolkien 1+13") and pensive pointillism ("Gravity: sections 5-7") to cascading torrents of sound ("Tzolkien 2+9" and "Gravity: section 8"). They draw on multiple traditions, shifting from abstract funk to swaggering bop on "Gravity: section 4," while "Tzolkien 3+6+7" eradicates notions of austerity with its syncopated vamp and lively discourse between Mears' staccato alto and Tiner's muted horn.

Equally informed by complex compositional theory and raw improvisational fervor, Gravity is a compelling example of challenging, yet ultimately accessible creative improvised music. Much has been written about the importance of composition for the future of jazz; this date is an early contender for future case studies.

Track Listing: Gravity: sections 1-3; Tzolkien 2+9; Gravity: section 4; Tzolkien 1+13; Gravity: sections 5-7; Tzolkien 3+6+7; Gravity: section 8; Tzolkien 4+5+12; Gravity: sections 9-11.

Personnel: Jason Mears: alto saxophone, clarinet; Kris Tiner: trumpet; Ivan Johnson: double-bass; Paul Kikuchi: drums, percussion.

Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


Shop

More Articles

Read Peace and Love: A Tribute to Will Connell CD/LP/Track Review Peace and Love: A Tribute to Will Connell
by Troy Dostert
Published: March 28, 2017
Read Oaktree CD/LP/Track Review Oaktree
by Matthew Aquiline
Published: March 28, 2017
Read Green With Envy CD/LP/Track Review Green With Envy
by James Nadal
Published: March 28, 2017
Read Luma CD/LP/Track Review Luma
by Geannine Reid
Published: March 28, 2017
Read My Foolish Heart CD/LP/Track Review My Foolish Heart
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: March 28, 2017
Read Ha Noi Duo CD/LP/Track Review Ha Noi Duo
by Ian Patterson
Published: March 27, 2017
Read "Tipico" CD/LP/Track Review Tipico
by James Nadal
Published: January 12, 2017
Read "Juxtaposition" CD/LP/Track Review Juxtaposition
by David A. Orthmann
Published: March 9, 2017
Read "Upward Spiral" CD/LP/Track Review Upward Spiral
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: May 19, 2016
Read "Cuts" CD/LP/Track Review Cuts
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 5, 2016
Read "Four Plus Three" CD/LP/Track Review Four Plus Three
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: June 5, 2016
Read "Alba" CD/LP/Track Review Alba
by John Kelman
Published: June 10, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!