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Composer/reed player Walter Thompson is a musician's musician, someone who does consistently interesting work, yet whose name rarely surfaces in the pool of public opinion. Past projects have featured major players from both coasts—Nels and Alex Cline, Vinny Golia, Dave Douglas, Herb Robertson, Thomas Chapin—and if the members of his current aggregation lack such international reputations, they are more than up to the task of presenting Thompson's latest opus/system/ thingy.
Okay, Thompson describes it thusly:
Soundpainting is the composing/conducting system I developed for musicians, actors, dancers, poets, and visual artists working in the medium of structured improvisation. At present, the system comprises over 700 gestures that are signed by the composer/conductor indicating the type of improvisation desired of the performers.
Got that? Anyone demanding a melody followed by a series of solos can wait in the car. However, if you're up for some weird cousins of Butch Morris' conductions dropping by for the holidays, you might be in for a treat. The lurching, stumbling steps of "Entrance" prove that music does not move by groove alone. Voices enter on "Prepare," bright syncopated brass lines dominate "Get Ready."
But you're not ready for what comes next. Thompson notes that " PEXO is my abstracted sound vision of a visit to a television recording studio," but there is no reason to let your imagination stop there. I hear the nineteen minute-long "Bob Barker" more as a football game with the opposing coaches being Anthony Braxton and Luciano Berio. And the concluding "Two Talk Show Hosts" resembles a holiday feast, where half the guests are not allowed to speak, but are encouraged to play their instruments to express themselves. But maybe that's just me.
In any event, PEXO is way too provacative and evocative to be swept off the table with last year's lists of favorites. Clear out the guest room. Soundpainting sounds like it's here to stay.
Track Listing: Entrance/ Prepare/ Get Ready/ Bob
Barker/ The Crowd/ Two Talk Show Hosts
Personnel: Walter Thompson- conductor; Todd Reynolds- violin; Rolf Sturm- guitar; Gil Selinger- cello; Steve Rust, Jim
Whitneybass; Rob Henke- trumpet; Chris Washburne, Sarah Weavertrombone; Michael Attias- alto, baritone
saxophone; Jody Espinaalto saxophone; Julie Ferrara- oboe; Andrea Pryor, Greg Stare- percussion
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.