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The Cosmosamatics: Jazz-Maalika

Ian Patterson By

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The Cosmosamatics—an ever-evolving ensemble co-led by multi-reedists Sonny Simmons and Michael Marcus—was founded in 2000, though the seeds were arguably planted many years earlier. Half a century ago, Simmons was cutting his teeth with multi-reedists Prince Lasha, Eric Dolphy and others of the so-called free jazz movement. Marcus made his name in the avant/free circles of a later generation, so there was a natural symmetry to their eventual meeting in the early 1980s and subsequent collaborations. The Cosmosamatics has always paid musical homage to its spiritual forbearers such as alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, Dolphy, bassist Charles Mingus, pianist Sun Ra; on its ninth release, it's saxophonist John Coltrane who in large measure provides the inspiration.

The Eastern spiritualism that increasingly informed Coltrane's final decade has always been part of The Cosmosamatics' musical DNA and guest musicians sitarist Gargi Shinde, tablaist Maitreya Padukone and Rohan Prabhudessai on harmonium forge a bridge from the East to the more abstract musical philosophy of the quintet. The Indian instrumentation imbues a meditative quality in the quieter segments of the music, which on the whole is less fierce in intensity than on some of the band's previous recordings. In fact, there's a laid back Ellingtonian melodicism about the opener, "Moroccan Dreams." Tabla and Jay Rosen's brushes evoke the gentle rhythms of a desert caravan as Marcus' sensuous clarinet weaves a sinewy course and Shinde's sitar adds a touch of shimmering exoticism.

On "Hare Krishna"—the set's most literal devotional song—Marcus' keening tarogato (a Turkish reed instrument) combines with somber sitar and harmonium to provide a base for Simmon's wailing vocal invocation. Elsewhere, the music bears the mark of Coltrane's influence more overtly. The fifteen-minute "Coltrane in Paradise" may begin like a brooding Indian raga but once Simmons and Marcus enter in unison the music veers decidedly towards the spirit of Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965). Pianist John Austria's McCoy Tyner-esque chords and tinkling runs and Carter's bass ostinato provide the canvas while Simmons's alto saxophone and Marcus' soprano clarinet in turn carve searing, ecstatic lines, punctuated by Rosen's tumbling rolls and intermittent crashing cymbals.

The other extended piece, "Lavender," develops from a similar blueprint to "Coltrane in Paradise"; rippling percussion and rumbling piano give way to a piano ostinato over which reeds announce the head. Shinde stretches out on sitar, floating over repetitive bass and piano motifs. A bluesy passage follows, with Simmon's rasping alto at the center. At 80, the evergreen Simmons is in great form. His drawn out exclamations over a bouncing rhythm contrast with Marcus' fluid lines and Carter's walking bass. The two unite in a rousing closing chorus. Two shorter numbers, the quirky "Myna Love Call" featuring tabla, and "Tikum Olam (Healing the World)" featuring plaintive tarogato and wonderfully buoyant bass round out the set.

Passionate without resorting to strident exhibitionism, lyrical in an understated way and above all heartfelt, this East-West hybrid is a worthy addition to The Cosmosamatics' discography. A decade and a half on, Simmons and Marcus' creative juices show no signs of drying up.

Track Listing: Moroccan Dreams; Coltrane in Paradise; Myna Love Call; Hare Krishna; Lavender; Tikum Olam (Healing the World).

Personnel: Sonny Simmons: English horn, alto sax, vocals; Michael Marcus: Bb and A clarinets, tatogato; John Austria: piano; Rashaan Carter: drums; Jay Rosen: drums; Gargi Shinde: sitar; Maitreya Padukone: tablas; Rohan Prabhudesai: harmonium.

Title: Jazz-Maalika | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: SaptakJazz

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