As these words are being written Ned Rothenberg is gearing up for a truncated tour of parts of the Mid West and East Coast with none other than Evan Parker. If his ability to keep confident company with the player regarded by many as the most technically proficient saxophonist of the post-Coltrane era doesn’t pique your interest in checking this disc out I know not what will. Though several years old this release is timely for several reasons. Most prominently perhaps is that the tentet assembled here is comprised of players who are now firmly entrenched in the vanguard of creative improvised music. Dave Douglas, Mark Feldman, Mark Dresser, Rothenberg himself- the roster reads like an All-Star free jazz band and from the music it’s easily apparent that it is.
Another reason for the disc’s inviting timeliness is Rothenberg’s inventive charts, which possess a startling equilibrium between intricate composition and spontaneous improvisation. The group works equally well as big band or in smaller ensemble combinations as the opening Latin-tinged noir of “Hidalgo” amply makes clear. An interlocking latticework of rhythmic meters via strings and percussion provides the base for the soloists including Feldman, Velez, Rothenberg and Dresser. “Strange Sarabande” is a loping, chamber piece with lilting arco figures and sporadic pizzicato punctuation. “Bellhop Vontz” denotes still another direction; this time piloted by a fractured bass-fueled groove. The horns and strings shuffle and shimmy in a disjointed dirge of dissenting voices until an eventual return to linear momentum. Rothenberg’s alto comes to the fore on “Crosshatch” for an extended solo doused in dour harmonics. Later sections of the piece follow an ebb and flow with the leader’s horn always maintaining a subterranean sense of direction. The final “In the Rotation” is the most orchestral sounding piece in the program and works out of a revolving merry-go-round of rhythms with cogent solo statements from nearly all of the members of the ensemble.
An added extra is John Corbett’s insightful and descriptive liner notes, which provide excellent commentary to the music. A clever, if somewhat annoying, impetus to read them is that they are the only place where personnel and the listings of their instruments can be located. Since this disc’s initial release Rothenberg has continued along a uniform path of excellence, but flashing back to his earlier efforts here is well worth the energy and expense involved. If you find yourself faced with the opportunity definitely catch him on tour.
Hidalgo/ Strange Sarabande/ Bellhop Vontz/ Crosshatch/ In the Rotation.
Recorded: August 24-25, 1995, Sound on Sound Studios, NYC, NY.
Ned Rothenberg- alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Kenny Berger- baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Dave Douglas- trumpet; Josh Roseman- trombone; Mark Feldman- violin; Ruth Siegler- viola; Mark Dresser- bass; Erik Friedlander- cello; Michael Sarin- drums; Glen Velez- percussion.