Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen has hit upon a sure fire winner with his accompanists on Song For A New Decade. He has enlisted the services of a world class rhythm section in the person of bassist William Parker and drummer Andrew Cyrille, a combination which might show anyone in a good light. But Innanen possesses personality enough to thrive in their company and avoids the common pitfall of being overly reverent. In a sumptuous two disc package, well up to the standards anticipated from TUM Records, Innanen has brought together a 2010 studio session by the trio and matched it with a live meeting with Cyrille, recorded at Brooklyn's I-Beam in 2012.
On alto saxophone Innanen affects a keening tone, to which he adds broad vibrato for emotional weight, (notably as on the theme restatement on the plaintive "The End Is a Beginning"), and plays baritone with a similar vocalized edge. Generally he veers away from all out aural assault alternating boppish extemporization and folky lines blended with jazz inflections. Both Parker and Cyrille take care not to overpower, but furnish wholehearted interplay. Cyrille gives a drum masterclass. It's a pleasure to listen to his rumbling tuneful percussion in such well-captured clarity, while Parker's resonant soul stirring bass knits the parts together.
Innanen pens conventionally structured pieces in which his heads frame loose but natural sounding blowing from the trio. He gets matters off to a fine start with the dirge-like title track which opens into conversational exchange, illuminated by fizzing saxophone yelps which recall Evan Parker in their density and trajectory. However that similarity proves more of an exception than the rule. Innanen uses exotic instruments like Indian clarinet and nose flute on the collectively generated "Look for the Red Door," which ends with blues-tinged wailing over a rustic groove. Some of the most arresting passages on the first disc come on the final "Small and Big Steps" when a lurching alto/arco unison turns into free driving arco abrasion and intertwining alto saxophone. Parker turns in a tour de force with his bow, managing to both support and challenge simultaneously.
Without written material Innanen works from repeated motifs which he mutates and reconstructs. Their duet comprises a continuous largely spacious performance demarcated into six tracks for the benefit of radio DJs (Innanen puts a wry exclamation mark after that statement in the liners). It's all about communication and Cyrille is supremely responsive. In fact as sax/drum summits go it is remarkably restrained, only going into the red at points on "Song 4" as a claxon burst from Innanen's baritone announces a sequence of robust give and take, and "Song 6" where the reedman's assertive baritone riffing at the end suggests Ken Vandermark in its energy. Notwithstanding occasional treading water while waiting to hit on a worthwhile idea, interest and excitement remain the predominant suit.
CD-1: Song for a New Decade; The End is a Beginning; Karl’s Castle; Look for the Red Door; A Morning, a Day, a Night; See You at 103; Blue in Nublu; Small and Big Steps. CD-2: Song 1; Song 2; Song 3; Song 4; Song 5; Song 6.
Mikko Innanen: alto and baritone saxophones, Indian clarinet, Uilleann chanter, nose flute, whistles, percussion; William Parker: double bass (CD-1 only); Andrew Cyrille: drums.
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