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Michael Adkins Quartet: Rotator

Chris May By

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A gigantic album from an extraordinary "new" tenor saxophonist. Rotator is actually Michael Adkins' second disc as leader, but his first—Infotation (Semblance Records, 2005), recorded back in 2000 and five years finding a label—slipped under the radar of many listeners. Thirty-something Adkins, brought up around Detroit but based in New York since 1998, seems to have sprung fully formed from whatever mould they make great tenor players in.

Adkins' playing has the gravitas of someone 20 years his senior and his sound has the gruff, bluesy, seasoned weight which distinguished the best hard bop tenormen of the late 1950s/early 1960s. His tone is often vocalized and makes attractive use of multiphonics in the mid and lower registers, but is free of chalk-down-a-blackboard screechng. It's a pleasure just to roll around in the sound.

Adkins' writing—and all eight pieces here are Adkins originals—is singular and luminously of today. It's typified by terse, repeated, circular motifs, which Adkins in his improvisations obsesses on, worries at, approaches from different angles, buffs and burnishes and generally turns inside out before passing the torch to one of the other players.

The blues-informed "Number Five," a representative track, sounds like it's something John Coltrane might have recorded with Thelonious Monk—but not in 1957, next year. Less typically, though even in rough diamond mode Adkins is in his own way always lyrical, the pastoral "Forena" suggests today's Charles Lloyd. Adkins sounds unlike anyone you ever heard before—but at the same time, like someone who's always been with us.

The band is just perfect. Bassist John Hebert played on Infotation, and it's he, presumably, who introduced Adkins to pianist Russ Lossing—the free-spirited and righteously swinging Hebert and Lossing are longtime playing partners whose decade-long association has now been marked by their first duo album, Line Up (Hat Hut, 2008). The drummer is modern master Paul Motian—approaching twice Adkins' age but immortal, his genius for supple, quasi-melodic, backbeat-free yet propulsive rhythm undimmed.

Rotator is absolutely essential listening for anyone who loves tenor saxophone. An important new voice has arrived.


Track Listing: Rotator; Their May Wings; Silent Screen; Pearl 21; Forena; Encrypted; Number Five; Reflection.

Personnel: Michael Adkins: tenor saxophone; Russ Lossing: piano; John Hebert: double bass; Paul Motian: drums.

Title: Rotator | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Hat Hut Records

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