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Solar: Suns of Cosmic Consciousness

John Kelman By

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More than ever before, the younger generation of jazz players emerging are incorporating influences far and wide. While new forms of jazz have always revolved around taking earlier forms and moving them forward, never before have the number of musical choices been so great as to engender an unprecedented eclecticism. Groups like Sweden's E.S.T. incorporate subtle shadings from electronica, even while they are influenced in a big way by European impressionism and the music of Keith Jarrett — representing a lack of purity that Jarrett, himself, would find completely objectionable, yet resulting in a distinctive group sound where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Solar — the trio of pianist Eli Yamin, bassist Adam Bernstein and percussionist/saxophonist Andy Demos — has an even more panoramic view. One doesn't have to hear their African-informed interpretation of "Rhythm-a-ning to know that their occasionally idiosyncratic approach owes a certain debt to Thelonious Monk. And while their interpretation of Charles Mingus' "Remember Rockefeller at Attica, features an intro that is more Cecil Taylor than Don Pullen, by the time they are into the meat of the tune, they are blending a clear knowledge of Mingus with a slightly skewed sense of rhythm that sounds distinctly retro and, at the same time, current. Yamin's "Waltz on the Hudson is more straightforward, with the kind of grace the exhibits a clear link to Ellington, and the kind of physical swing that could only come from some serious time wood-shedding the genre.

And jazz isn't their only source of inspiration. Their version of Earl King's R&B hit, "Come On, might be considered faithful if it weren't interpreted as a vehicle for only drums, bass and voice. Yamin's own "Reincarnation 1968, with its kirtan chanting harkens back to a hippie era long past when, at best, Yamin, Bernstein and Demos were toddlers but, more likely than not, not even a twinkle in their parents' eyes. And yet, Solar manage to capture the vibe and bring it into a more exploratory space, blending rock rhythms and Demo's George Adams-informed tenor solo.

Perhaps it's the availability of so much music to these younger players that encourages them to liberally mix and match styles. Bernstein's opener, "Samba De Aztac evokes images of Salvador, made all the more poignant by Demos' militaristic rhythms. The spiritual closer, Sun Ra's "Love in Outer Space, is lighter and more elegant than its source, with Bernstein providing an insistently lyrical foundation and Yamin's eloquence gently supported by Demos' unobtrusive brushwork.

Groups that place their influences so vividly on their musical sleeves run the risk of losing sight of their own identity; and Solar do seem a little on the schizophrenic side at times. Still, though they mix free playing with tender lyricism, the deeply serious with the blatantly humorous, and traditional jazz forms with styles farther afield, Solar manages to create a consistent statement, where the common elements are spirited interplay, vivid imagination and powerful intention.

Visit Eli Yamin on the web.


Track Listing: 1. Samba de Aztac; 2. Reincarnation; 3. Remember Rockefeller at Attica; 4.In, Out; 5. Waltz on the Hudson; 6. Rhythm-A-Ning; 7. Perk Up; 8. September Song; 9.Prototype for Constructive Dialogue; 10. Solar 2002; 11. Come On King; 12. Love in Outer Space.

Personnel: Eli Yamin: Piano, Vocals; Adam Bernstein: Vocals, Acoustic Bass; Andy Demos: Percussion, Drums, Tenor Saxophone, Tabla; Kate McGarry: Vocals; Jane Kelly Williams: Vocals.

Title: Suns of Cosmic Consciousness | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Aztac

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