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The Cosmosamatics: Jazz-Maalika

Florence Wetzel By

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Cosmosamatics: The Cosmosamatics: Jazz-Maalika Since their founding in 2002, the Cosmosamatics have been one of the most exciting groups in jazz. Spearheaded by twin souls Sonny Simmons and Michael Marcus, the band has thus far released nine recordings and one live DVD. Part of the Cosmosamatics' strength lies in their openness to new sounds and players, and over the years they have incorporated a movable feast of musicians, including bassist William Parker, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and saxophonist James Carter. On their new release, Jazz-Maalika, they are joined by several Indian musicians, and the resulting music is a shimmering blend of East and West, set amid exquisite arrangements with a solid foundation of swing.

Simmons is of course one of the great jazz legends of the 1960s and beyond. Still going strong at 80 years young, he contributes the gorgeous tone of his English horn and alto sax. Marcus is renowned as a first-rate multi-instrumentalist, but in recent years he has devoted himself to the B-flat clarinet, an instrument particularly suited for merging with Indian instruments—witness Tony Scott's Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys and Perry Robinson's Kundalini. This time around, Simmons and Marcus are joined by the Cosmosamatics most frequent drummer, the always impressive Jay Rosen, as well as John Austria on piano and Rashaan Carter on bass. The quintet is complemented by special guests Gargi Shinde on sitar, Maitreya Padukone on tablas, and Rohan Prabhudesai on harmonium. The six songs feature various combinations of these eight musicians, making each tune a one-of-a-kind experience.

The opener "Moroccan Dreams" is a Marcus composition that features clarinet, sitar, and tablas, plus the Cosmosamatics' rhythm section. Marcus is a terrific songwriter, and the melody on this tune is wonderfully mellow and appealing. The song starts off with a touch of solo piano, then eases into a sinuous groove. Marcus' clarinet is just gorgeous, his lines marvelously wavy with wild dips, combining easily with the sitar's sonorous twang and the tablas' lovely rolling energy. It's an immensely pleasing piece that's a seamless blending of two musical worlds. "Myna Love Call" is a short song by Marcus that's a trio with clarinet, tablas, and drums. It's another enchanting tune, this time with a sprightly melody and a fine tablas solo by Padukone. Simmons' song "Hare Krishna" is another trio, this time featuring sitar, harmonium, and the rich, mournful tone of Simmons on English horn. The piece is a great opportunity to hear this much-neglected instrument played by one of its masters; Simmons is a deeply emotional player, and he suffuses the instrument with a deep, plaintive cry, as well as free-form stutters. Simmons also busts out with some vocalizations, proof of his reputation as one of jazz's great showmen—it's always a treat to see him play live. "Tikum Olam (Healing the World)" is another charming Marcus composition, only this time he plays tarogato with all three of the Indian musicians. The tarogato is a beautiful instrument that has been described as a cross between the English horn and soprano sax, and the unique tone expands the musical palate in a most delightful way. The song progresses in a mellow, easy fashion, the four musicians unfolding the music at a serene pace. It's a hopeful, full-hearted tune, and it's a great way to end the album.

Jazz-Maalika also includes two remarkable long-form songs. "Lavender" is a 10-minute Marcus composition that features all the instruments except harmonium. Once again the arrangement is stellar, using various configurations of instruments to create sumptuous, layered flavors. The tune starts off with a shimmering intro, which is followed by a sitar solo infused with funky urgency. Marcus and Simmons jump in and reveal the effervescent melody, and then the song skirts off into a slightly off-kilter clarinet interlude that ends with Rosen dancing the cymbals. A bass solo opens up the space for another pleasing sitar feature, with deliciously tasteful backing by tablas and the Cosmosamatics' rhythm section. The song unfolds further via a bluesy sax solo by Simmons that's bursting with his distinctive, angular phrasing, buoyed up by some lively comping from Austria. Then there's a nimble solo by Marcus, with the rhythm section providing some toe-tapping swing in support. For the coda, Marcus busts out some stratospheric notes that would make Artie Shaw proud, and then he's joined by Simmons for a rich wrap-up. It's a lovely, tuneful piece with an exquisite flow of moods and sounds, with both East and West getting their full due.

Then there's Simmons' tune "Coltrane in Paradise," a majestic 15-minute song with a warmhearted, joyful spirit. The piece is an homage to John Coltrane and his journeys with Indian music, and perhaps also Alice Coltrane, who was another pioneer in this field. This tune has sitar and tablas, as well as clarinet, alto sax, and the Cosmosamatics' rhythm section. The song starts with a stunning sitar feature, with the piano and tablas simmering quietly in the background as the sitar feels its way into the piece. Then Simmons and Marcus come in with the melody, which is suffused with Coltrane's regal energy. Rosen offers a tremendous solo, with rolling stickwork and lovely percussive flourishes. The song then shifts into an appealing groove with the sitar and piano, which provides a platform for some probing front-line work from Simmons and Marcus. And then the tune slows down, entering that questing, open space that again echoes Coltrane's world. This morphs into a wonderful Simmons solo with his distinctive flowing lines, so beautifully and personally phrased, overflowing with gorgeous dissonances and high-register excursions. Simmons frequently cites Coltrane as one of his influences, and here he channels the great man's spirit through his own matchless talents. Austria offers a lithe piano solo that's deepened by powerful chords; Marcus' solo is full of warm, finely shaped lines; and there's a nice bass solo by Carter, who gently incorporates Indian rhythms. The bass then goes completely solo, and the tune ends on a decisive cymbal hit. A moving homage to great masters, "Coltrane in Paradise" is an elegantly paced work with a fantastically appealing rhythm.

Altogether Jazz-Maalika is a fine addition to the body of jazz recordings infused with traditional Indian instruments. The music is fresh, enjoyable, and masterful throughout, with the perpetually tasteful arrangements providing an excellent example of how two musical worlds can meet. It also represents another superb voyage by the Cosmosamatics, a unique, long-lived group who always have something exceptional to offer.


Track Listing: Moroccan Dreams; Coltrane in Paradise; Myna Love Call; Hare Krishna; Lavender; Tikum Olam (Healing the World).

Personnel: Sonny Simmons: English horn, alto sax, vocals; Michael Marcus: Bb and A clarinets, tatogato; John Austria: piano; Rashaan Carter: drums; Jay Rosen: drums; Gargi Shinde: sitar; Maitreya Padukone: tablas; Rohan Prabhudesai: harmonium.

Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: SaptakJazz


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