Mark Whitecage: Split Personality

Glenn Astarita By

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Sadly, the fine Swiss label Hat Art, now called Hatology has suffered from poor distribution in the United States and import-like prices. Hat Art was a purveyor of the “new jazz”. Important jazz icons such as Anthony Braxton, Joe McPhee, Gerry Hemmingway and many others have explored uncharted musical waters due to the backing and vision of this innovative and classy outfit. Thankfully, Mr. Schuller along with Producer Marc Lambert have provided jazz lovers with a string of artistic and delightful recordings that have proved to be among 98’s top picks. GM Recordings is a worthy successor to the purveyance of extraordinary recordings and sonic beauty of Swiss based Hatology records. Thankfully, Schuller and Co. have concentrated their efforts and distribution should be attainable throughout the jazz world.

Mark Whitecage is an alto-soprano saxophonist who has wavered in and out of the jazz scene for many years. Prior to this recording he can be heard on collaborations with bassist Joe Fonda, trumpeter Herb Robertson, stints with Gunther Hampel, bassist Mario Pavone and trombonist Steve Swell. Whitecage’s output during the 1980’s was minimal; however, this New Englander has recently resurfaced and the jazz world should celebrate. This cat can play!

Ed Hazell’s liner notes parallels Whitecage’s improvisation and composition approach to the early 70’s New York City loft scene. “A democratic collaborative approach calculated to ensure maximum participation in the creation of music”. Hazel is on the mark here. The early 1970’s Loft Scene was a welcome relief to a jazz world that had seen better days during the 1960’s. Musicians spawned their creative spirits for eager audiences and stretched the limits of their ideas, improvisation, love and enthusiasm for this thing we call jazz. Whitecage, bassist Dominic Duval, and drummer Jay Rosen “democratically” explore regions of fresh ideas, playful dialogue and exquisite improvisation. Each tune is compositionally structured. The trio tips the listener off as we get the drift but are unassumingly taken for surprise. Whitecage and co. tease us with motifs and challenge our ears with peaks and valleys. The band operates as if they were a runaway train. Stay out of the ! way, this train can’t slow down.

The opener is a Whitecage composition called “Five O’Clock Follies”. A fast, swinging burner which showcases some alto sax pyrotechnics by Whitecage. Jay Rosen’s crisp drumming and Duval’s walking bass provide diverse rhythmic structures and dynamic tempo changes. Whitecage tap dances all over his instrument with purposeful abandon. Ultimately, they provide us with a glimpse of what lies ahead. “Split Personality” commences with a memorable theme, somewhat cerebral as one would expect. The mood intensifies as the tempo picks up and we are led into a dark foreboding place where the artists take their craft to a higher plane. “High Tech #7” is reminiscent of the great free jazz saxophonist Evan Parker’s work with his longtime unit of Barry Guy and Paul Lytton. Engaging interplay, sweeping drums and percussion. On “High Tech #7”, Whitecage darts up and down the alto while allowing Rosen and Duval the required space to show their might with some endearing rhythmic exp! lorations. On “City Islands” images of Anthony Braxton and drummer Tony Oxley come to mind. Whitecage is again magnificent with his soul searching plaintive cry. He is the preacher on the pulpit. The final cut, “Something About J.C.” winds the proceedings down with some somber and seemingly circular movements. The train has slowed down to a halt.

Along with Mark Helias’ “Fictionary” (see AAJ review 8-98) and this new release by Whitecage, GM Recordings has single-handedly produced 2 of this writer’s top picks thus far for 1998. The music is fresh, vivacious, first rate and all in all, a sonic treat. Let’s hope for continued excellence from this record label that is operating with top-notch personnel and a state of the art vision.

Title: Split Personality | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: W.E.R.F.


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