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 The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark CD/LP/Track Review The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Les Deux Versants Se Regardent CD/LP/Track Review Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by John Sharpe
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Molto Bene CD/LP/Track Review Molto Bene
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read "It's Time" CD/LP/Track Review It's Time
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: August 31, 2016
Read "Chamber Jazz" CD/LP/Track Review Chamber Jazz
by Dave Wayne
Published: November 19, 2016
Read "Tribute to Andrezej Przybielski Vol. 1" CD/LP/Track Review Tribute to Andrezej Przybielski Vol. 1
by Karl Ackermann
Published: December 7, 2016
Read "Machine Gun: Live At The Fillmore East First Show" CD/LP/Track Review Machine Gun: Live At The Fillmore East First Show
by Sacha O'Grady
Published: November 6, 2016
Read "Forgiveness Suite" CD/LP/Track Review Forgiveness Suite
by John Sharpe
Published: November 15, 2016
Read "Special Kay!" CD/LP/Track Review Special Kay!
by Jack Bowers
Published: May 18, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

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!

Buy it!