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Album Review

Alex Coke & Carl Michel: The Emissary

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Alex Coke & Carl Michel: The Emissary
With instrumentation that includes harp, pedal steel guitar and vibraphone, this album is clearly not meant to resemble a classic jazz session. Instead, it ambitiously incorporates jazz, medieval composition and exotic folk melodies into a hypnotically beautiful set of diverse rhythms and motifs.

The most austere selection is "O Pastor Animarum" by 12th century composer, Hildegarde von Bingen. Here Carl Michel's guitar, Elaine Barber's harp, and bob Hoffnar 's pedal steel guitar combine into a thick, iridescent weave of drone with grace notes gently tapped out by Carolyn Trowbridge's vibraphone. Alex Coke's composition "The Emissary" is more in the spiritual jazz direction of Alice Coltrane. The composer's flute blowing an Eastern melody through a forest of strings before all the other players take turns billowing out of the thickly murmuring group hum.

There are also livelier tunes in the set. Michel's composition, "Sol Y Luna," is a graceful tropical tango which gives Coke's flute and Trowbridge's vibes room to dance. "Arabesque," a Paul Motian tune, has Coke's tenor sax singing forcefully into the midst of a gauzy harp-led sound bed. "Alterations" is a shuddering free jazz collision where James Suter's bass and Cole's flute throbs above the instrumental murmur. The set ends with a trip to Albert Ayler country as Coke burrows his tenor deeply into the Huddie Ledbetter folk song "Go Down Old Hannah." He shouts and shrieks deep-rooted bluesy passion as the other players vibrate around him.

The production of this album may lack polish but the music still feels immediate and raw. This sextet comes together beautifully in conveying the music's spacey and earthy elements. They can drift with meditative beauty or roar with passion and their collective sound lingers in the memory. This is a unique and lovely album.

Track Listing

Arabesque; O Pastor Animarum; The Emissary; Sol y Luna; Alterations; Go Down, Old Hannah.

Personnel

Carl Michel: guitar; Alex Coke: saxophone; Elaine Barber: harp; bob Hoffnar : guitar, steel; James Suter: bass, acoustic; Carolyn Trowbridge: vibraphone.

Album information

Title: The Emissary | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Play On


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