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Wind multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter may be a fixture on the downtown New York scene, but he is little known outside of that circle. And that’s a shame because he’s as deserving of the moniker “improvising musician” as many of his more well-known contemporaries. While he has an ability to expand the language of his instruments through extended techniques, he maintains a surprisingly focused orientation, looking for melodies in the ether. His latest collaboration, Mysterium , places him in the position of being the most well-known of the ensemble, which means you almost certainly haven’t heard of the others. And that’s also a shame.
Morgan Craft plays what is termed as “Stunt Guitar,” which really means an amalgam of effects and techniques coupled with real time samples and an almost anything goes approach that allows him to navigate everything from funky bass lines to metallic abandon and all points in between. Percussionist/clarinetist Eric Eigner uses everything from traditional percussion instruments to found objects, chains and just about anything else he can get his hands on that clangs, clatters and rattles. Together with Carter the result, five extended improvisations, could seem pointless and meandering but most often doesn’t. Instead, each member of the trio has ears big enough to follow leads, and enough personal vision to create direction.
With Carter’s saxophones, trumpet and flute coupled with Craft’s diverse guitar-ish sounds and Eigner’s multiplicity of banging, chiming and crashing instruments, there is plenty of aural diversity to create pieces that develop both texturally and thematically. From sombre landscapes to all-out funk grooves, the ensemble creates pieces that are defined by a spirit of adventure and no particular boundaries. “City Bumpkin Cadenza” begins as a dark tone poem until Eigner kicks in with a skewed funk groove over which Craft layers guitar that can only be described as Derek Bailey meets James Blood Ulmer. “Who’s Got the Battering Ram?” starts with the closest this group comes to swinging, Carter blowing over a loose drum groove; but Craft takes it for a left turn by contributing jarring chords that would sound more at home in a garage band.
Still, for all the strange cross-pollination of styles—often going on at the same time—there is a strange sense of unity. Carter, Craft and Eigner don’t fashion music that can be easily categorized, and it certainly can be an affront on the senses. Still, the group has a clear chemistry that elevates these improvisations above the usual “let’s go and see what happens” fare. Mysterium is a surprisingly likable album from a group that would be even more engaging in person.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.