Man vs. Machine was a common phrase or term often heard during the infancy of analog synthesizers, especially when jazz and/or classical artists decided to meld acoustic instruments with electronics. Saxophonist-composer-improviser Anthony Braxton’s infamous and often intriguing duets with synthesist Richard Teitelbaum come to mind, yet history dictates that many of these engagements in general, represented nothing other than mere experiments featuring little if any musical value. On Hints on Light and Shadow, renowned jazz luminaries – saxophonist Sam Rivers and trombonist Julian Priester join forces with synth expert Tucker Martine on this 1997 “Postcards” re-release.
The opener, “Heads of the People” features fervent yet sycophant dialogue between Priester and Martine as though two distinct personalities were going head-to-head via odd mediums, as words would be meaningless or inappropriate. From the onset it becomes quite obvious that the two and three-way interaction is arresting and curiously thought provoking as they dispel any notions of wanton ramblings, or contrived musical speak! Throughout, Martine exhibits his proficiency and keen ear while implementing various patterns and sequences that aim to compliment, shade or counterbalance the often stunning dialogue and interplay of these two modern jazz icons! On “Mister Mayor and Mister Miser”, Martine pursues circular yet subtle passages that underscore Rivers’ and Priester’s potent exchanges yet Martine integrates a metronome-like, pre-programmed recurring sequence which serves as the pulse or implied meter. Here, Martine’s shrewd synth work serves as the glue or common bond. The piece titled, “Autumnal Influences: The Book of Beauty” features Rivers on soprano sax while Martine’s synths remain deep down in the mix as he often mimics Rivers’ upper register dialogue with trombonist Julian Priester yet doesn’t interfere with the often striking improvisation and altogether climactic thematic development.
The title, Hints on Light and Shadow sums it up rather well! Rivers, Priester and Martine have skillfully actualized their visions and sense of direction as they pursue territory that to some staunch jazz aficionados may appear to be a bit odd. Yet it all works rather convincingly! - Not strictly a museum piece or, an art for art’s sake affair, Hints on Light and Shadow is modern, at times free-flowing yet conveys a sense of buoyancy and clear-sightedness which for the most part may seem transparent to the listener. * * * 1/2