Atlas Maior: Palindrome

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Open the package for Atlas Maior's debut CD and here's the first line you read: "Palindrome was completely improvised and recorded live with no overdubs." How you respond to these words will greatly shape how you respond to this music.

A mainstay on the vibrant Austin (Texas) music scene since 2010, Atlas Maior boasts a truly unique sound, not only from the instruments they play but the way they play them. The core trio features Ted Carnat on percussion, Joshua Thomson on alto saxophone and flute, and Charlie Lockwood on oud, one of the world's oldest instruments (a fretless eleven-string lute from what is now Iraq). They're joined for this excursion by Bob Shoffner on pedal steel guitar and Gary Calhoun James (who recorded, mixed and mastered Palindrome) on upright bass and harmonium. These instruments combine to create a very different sound, and this sound is made even more different by the ensemble's purely improvisational approach.

Though disc one captures excellent musicianship (such as the bass/saxophone dialogue in "Sea Beast" and Lockwood finger-picking a banjo sound from "The Street Slitherer") the improvisations on disc two seem to fit together more soundly.

"Burcu's Blues" really IS genuine blues. Lockwood's oud lays down what would normally be the acoustic guitar foundation of a twelve-bar classic like "Love in Vain" while Thomson's sharp alto peels the lid off the top and James steps out on upright bass—all rendering the familiar blues structure through an unfamiliar sound. "The Birds of Bhutan" awaken in an ornamental nest of rustling percussion and meditative oud (which sounds like a Japanese kyoto) and then sing their song through Thomson's alto and flute.

"Parlay" reaches out to fans of Ornette Coleman, especially its pointed and argumentative dialogue between alto and drums, which Carnat whips into a funky and spastic second line froth.

The late 2014 release of this 2013 recording served to crown a most amazing year for Atlas Maior: They toured Turkey and Spain in 2014, placed a track in 2014's 5th Biennial Art Festival of Marrakesh (Morocco), and the Austin City Council declared March 27, 2014, as "Atlas Maior Day."

Track Listing: Disc One: Mists of Our Past; Vengo Quote; iddaa!; The Street Slitherer; ouduo; Sea Beast; Booted and Looted. Disc Two: High Heat; Micronesian Sm*t Jazz; Parlay; Burcu's Blues; Half-pipe Blowhole; The Birds of Bhutan; oodaqq.

Personnel: Charlie Lockwood: oud; Ted Carnat: percussion; Joshua Thomson: alto saxophone, flute; Gary Calhoun James: upright bass, harmonium; Sari Adoni: oud; Bob Hoffner: pedal steel guitar.

Title: Palindrome | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Self Produced

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