Calling this improvising ensemble a ‘group’ is an important distinction. There are tracks here that feature the complete quintet, but there are also selections that focus attention on duo, trio and quartet combinations. The malleability of the players’ associations reflects directly on the music they create. Each man is comfortable contributing to the ensemble space just as easily as he is pulling out the stops through individual solos. What this translates into for the disc is an unflagging level of diversity in its contents.
Spearman and Cauley are in particularly fine form and it’s regrettable that their work together wasn’t documented more fully when Spearman was alive. Heward handles the rhythmic end of things with Duval and Prentice spinning a crosshatched web of string patterns around his volatile drum set. All of the pieces are originals and serve as fertile fodder for the players’ spirited and sensitive improvisations. Most mix full-tilt blowing passages with more subdued sections. A prime example of the kind balance between vigor and rest that is regularly achieved is “3 For John,” where Spearman’s opening salvo cuts a wide stream across Heward’s rustling drums in a furious deluge of force, before ebbing back into less stentorian speech. The pieces fit so well together that there are moments when the silences between their boundaries dissolve and the disc as a whole seems like one continuous suite; yet another indication of the musicians and the music here are totally in tune with one another.
In a group this strong it’s difficult to pick out favorites, but for my money Prentice’s violin and viola are the elements that really set the ensemble on fire. His exhaustive command of string pitch and harmonics is truly amazing and the electrical swathes of energy he generates with his bow are often the fuel from which the compositions combust. Sadly, he sits out on all of the tracks that feature subdivisions of the group, but Duval and Heward do their best to fill the gap left by his absence. One strange discographical anomaly that does crop up the disc sleeve is the crediting of Spearman with kalimba. My ears were unable to find any evidence of the instrument on the disc.
Spearman’s output is now set in stone. Beyond the promise of old material in the form of unissued recordings we will never be blessed by new sounds from his horn. Recordings like this one go a long way toward assuaging this regrettable reality and all should be accessed by anyone who takes stock in the imperative of improvised music.
Tracks:Irreversible Blues/ Gathering the Ancestors/ 3 For John/ Summoning*/ Arista Africanapata/ Moment In Time/ Stone Soup/ Initiation/ The Natural Thing.
Players:Glenn Spearmann- tenor saxophone, kalimba*, vocals*; John Heward- drums, vocals*, percussion*; Christopher Cauley- alto saxophone; David Prentice- violin, viola; Dominic Duval, b.
Recorded: May 21 & 22, 1997, Rossie, NY.
CIMP recordings are available directly through North Country Distributors- http://www.cadencebuilding.com