Saxophonist Jon Armstrong reminds us that life and death are two sides of the same coin. Although seemingly disparate, like two sides of an LP, they cannot be separated. His sextet recording Reabsorb models this contrasting device by presenting two contrasting compositions, one on each side of an LP (also available as a CD and download). The music, inspired by an Erin Armstrong poem, presents both sides, which at first encounter come off as binary elements. Loud and soft. Busy and quiet. With closer inspection, the music melds together as yang to the opposite side's yin.
Armstrong a bandleader, composer, and Director of Jazz Studies at Idaho State University returned to Los Angeles, his former residence, to record Reabsorb with a cast of L.A. based musicians. His sextet includes trumpeter Dan Rosenboom (Burning Ghosts, Bright Eyes, Vinny Golia), trombonist,Ryan Dragon (John Beasley's MONK'estra), pianist Joshua White (Jason Robinson, Mark Dresser), bassist Benjamin Shepherd (Peter Erskine), and drummer Tina Raymond (Cathlene Pineda). His meditation on life, death and universal consciousness, although heady topics, turns out to be agreeable music. Side one, "Hit It As Loudly As Possible" (best case scenario: they'll mention the quiet when one has gone) does just that. Bam, a crash of notes accompanies Armstrong's tenor which blurts a string of notes over a trumpet/trombone line. The music kindles a sort of mashup memory. One where Bill Laswell might have sat in with Weather Report. That figures, as bassist Shepherd studied with Alphonso Johnson and performed with Peter Erskine. All is not mayhem though. Armstrong's composition incorporates varied arrangements to keep the music on track, even when White's piano is working a jangled path.
The flip side follows the balance of the poem: 'Released/Light moves inside a green leaf/Now I'm absorbed by green/bouncing the loop of light.' "Loop Of Light" enters on Carl Sandberg's quiet fog with breath instead of notes and the subtle body of piano insides, brush work, and hushed horns. Bass notes bubble as the energy rises and the band's reconciliation involves a careful and measured soloing by Ryan Dragon before the music crescendos into resolution. Maybe Jon Armstrong should have dared to title this recording Love Supreme Reabsorbed.
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