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MAGIMC: Polishing The Mirror

Dave Wayne By

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The only thing that's puzzling about Polishing the Mirror is the album's title. I cannot fathom its significance. The music, on the other hand, is as direct and as immediate as it gets. Here, we have the wonderful improvising pianist Thollem McDonas in no-holds-barred free-jazz mode. Accompanied by saxophonist Eduardo Marraffa and percussionist Stefano Giust—two of Italy's finest young improvising musicians—McDonas cuts loose with some truly radical, and truly lovely, piano playing. Marraffa, who co-leads the wonderful free jazz group Eco d'Alberi, is an exceptionally gifted player. His tenor sound is positively cavernous, harkening back to the more atavistic sounds of early Pharoah Sanders, David S. Ware and Heinz Sauer. Guist is no slouch either. Endlessly resourceful, he uses every surface of his conventional drumkit to generate sounds that are somehow unexpected while being completely in concert with the prevailing mood of the moment.

Though the music on Polishing The Mirror is completely improvised and works with a familiar instrumentation, it is quite varied in mood and texture. "Ritorno" is a case in point. Starting out as an agitated extended crescendo with all three instrumentalists going full-bore, the saxophone and percussion inexplicably drop out. McDonas responds with an hilariously florid piano figure that quickly develops into a more open three-way conversation, dominated by tenor saxophone and drums. Oddly, "found sounds" play a role on this live recording. A squeaking, groaning piano bench acts almost as a 4th instrument during the foggy opening passages of "Lucidare La Lente." Though the bench is soon rendered inaudible by McDonas' triple forte chords and Marraffa's squalling tenor, its use as a sound source is a valid and complete part of the instant composition. This piece blends seamlessly into "Lucidare La Retina," ostensibly a feature for Marraffa's absolutely volcanic tenor saxophone, rife with wheezing, whirring overtones, unimaginable intervallic leaps, and animalistic growlings. McDonas answers Marraffa's foray with a dense, tension-filled improvisation of his own while Giust patters away underneath.

The 16-minute-plus title track is the album's centerpiece. Flowing through an endless variety of strategies and approaches, the trio remains tightly focused throughout. Giust is the key element here. While never playing time per se, his drumming has got a real sense of "pulse." For the first five minutes of the piece, he imparts a bounding sense of forward motion while continually shifting amongst a wide array of sounds. He bows out, largely, for an extended and amazing prepared piano passage, re-entering with low, muffled toms as McDonas himself waxes percussive on the piano innards.

The amazing thing is that MAGIMC is just one of an array of two dozen or so working small groups that Thollem McDonas maintains these days. The sense of connection between these disparate musicians is deep and palpable throughout Polishing The Mirror. It's something that can take years to develop, but in this case---as with many of McDonas' collaborations---it's seemingly developed instantly.

Track Listing: Polishing the Mirror; Lucidare la Lente; Lucidare la Retina; Hinges; Ritorno.

Personnel: Edoardo Marraffa: tenor and sopranino saxophones; Thollem McDonas: piano; Stefano Giust: drums, cymbals, objects.

Title: Polishing The Mirror | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Amirani Records

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