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Bruno Raberg: Lifelines

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Producer George Martin famously advocated a single LP release of the Beatles' epic White Album, culling the best tracks from the sessions; the Fab Four prevailed and released the sprawling, chaotic double LP we know today. Since then, many a double album has inspired skeptics to ask, like Sir George, "Might not a single disc have sufficed?"

Raberg's would-be White Album, released on the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles' magnum opus, uses color labels in a playful ploy to help the listener sort out the wealth of musical material herein: the Boston bassist divides his double-disc Lifelines into "Blue" and "Red" discs. Playful, because the labels don't seem to mean much: the music on each of the discs charts essentially similar musical territory. But territory well worth getting to know, explored here with top names from among New York's younger players.

Where a distinction can be drawn in the long set, however, is between eight collective improvisations, represented on blue and red discs alike, and the remainder of the cuts. A latter-day George Martin might have been tempted to release only the eight examples of group spontaneity; the CD-equipped listener, in the meantime, will be tempted to program a playlist of these tracks alone. They are little gems: small, pure, beautiful, marvelous to contemplate and entirely irreducible.

"Distant Roads" and "Moondown," for example, feature Chris Cheek's soprano sax birdsong—keening, wistful—over a gently tidal surge of guitar drone. "Eruption" is driven by angry, arco dissonance from the bass and Ben Monder's simmering guitar over a jagged little sax figure that provides the skeleton of the piece.

"Dream Walker," meanwhile, manages to be a free-jazz blues, with Monder and Cheek feeling out a melodic line that owes a bit of its pedigree to Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," Raberg and drummer Ted Poor gleefully propelling the rhythm along . (Ever notice, by the way, that Miles Davis's "Nardis" sounds like a Coleman composition? Raberg and his sidemen uncover that unsuspected facet of the Davis classic in their rendering here.)

It's ironic in a way, that the group improvisations stand out among the other tracks, because Raberg is a fine composer and arranger, qualities amply in evidence on the other tracks. The bassist's compositions are at times a tad emotionally austere in a way that the freely improvised numbers are not. Still, there are some very good songs, and one exceptional number: the elegiac "New Land" that closes the record.

Raberg's red/blue alternative to the White Album might not convince all the doubting George Martins out there, but excellent performances by all—with the fine Matt Wilson sitting in for drummer Ted Poor on a number of tracks—underpin an exceptionally strong contemporary jazz outing.

Track Listing: CD1: Agog; Agni; April Suite; Chosen Path; The Journey; Revisited Path; Intersection; Moondown; An Afternoon by the Meadow; Gymnastics/Skyscapes; Ballad For Summer's End. CD2: Elegy; Nardis/Cow's Tail; Fora Do Retrato; Cosmic Kerfuffle; Doxian (Darken in Color); Expectation; Candescence; Distant Roads; Flurries; Dream Walker; Eruption; New Land.

Personnel: Bruno Raberg: bass; Chris Cheek: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ben Monder: guitar; Ted Poor: drums; Matt Wilson: drums.

Title: Lifelines | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Orbis Music

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