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Richard Sussman: The Evolution Suite

Troy Dostert By

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On this ambitious recording, keyboardist Richard Sussman draws together several seasoned jazz veterans with the Sirius Quartet for a stimulating, genre-defying album of music. Built around Sussman's five-part "Evolution Suite," the record's guiding theme is also a gesture toward the transcendence of stylistic boundaries that animates Sussman's music. By utilizing conventional jazz, fusion, contemporary classical and a good dose of computer-generated electronics, Sussman is clearly making a statement about the importance of moving beyond pre-established categories in the quest to make truly original music.

While Sussman has recorded only sporadically during the last few decades, there's no question of his clout when it comes to putting a top-flight band together: trumpeter Scott Wendholt, tenorist Rich Perry, bassist Mike Richmond and drummer Anthony Pinciotti offer the skilled, sympathetic support that provides a natural, integrated feel to each movement of the suite, despite the music's frequent thematic and rhythmic shifts that would otherwise risk sounding jarring or forced. And Sussman's writing for the Sirius Quartet is rather adventurous, making clear that this is certainly not a "Richard Sussman Quintet with Strings" album. Rather than providing simple support or mere ornamentation, the strings often play a crucial role in propelling the music, not to mention enjoying some terrific improvisational moments of their own.

The suite's first movement, "Into the Cosmic Kitchen," is perhaps the most stylistically complex on the record, with heavy fusion grooves intermingled with more open sections allowing for freer improvisation. Sussman's synthesizers and electronics are featured heavily here, providing undercurrents which add texture and percussive force to the music. The Sirius Quartet is used to particularly good effect as well, on some moments to offer support to the quintet and at others to step out front. Special guest Zach Brock's electric violin solo is especially effective, both fiery and expressive.

The remaining tracks further reflect the record's expansive palette. Perry's smoky opening to the second movement, "Relaxin' at Olympus," paves the way for a beautiful ballad, deepened and enriched considerably by the contributions of the Sirius Quartet. Movement III, "Nexus," is built around an off-meter rock-inflected groove, again with the strings offering both melodic and rhythmic power. "Music of the Cubes," Movement IV, is heavy on atmosphere, with Sussman's electronics establishing an otherworldly tone of mystery for the piece. And the closing movement, "Perpetual Motion," the suite's most straight-ahead jazz number, shows again Sussman's ability to merge the strings with the quintet to create a rich, compelling vehicle for improvisation and ensemble playing.

If I had to offer a criticism of this otherwise fine recording, it would be that at times Sussman's use of electronics serves to distract or call attention to itself, rather than fitting seamlessly with the rest of the music. With so much superb musicianship on display, there are moments in which Sussman's additional contributions seem unnecessary. Even so, this is really just a quibble, and it takes nothing away from the admirable scope and complexity of the music on this record. Sussman spent almost a decade conceiving this suite, and the results are indeed a credit to his vision and dedication to his craft.

Track Listing: Movement I: Into The Cosmic Kitchen; Movement II: Relaxin' At the Olympus; Movement III: Nexus: Movement IV: Music Of The Cubes; Movement V: Perpetual Motion; Prevolution; Movement II (radio edit); Movement V (radio edit).

Personnel: Richard Sussman: piano, electronics; Scott Wendhoit: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone; Mike Richmond: acoustic and electric bass; Anthony Pincioti: drums; Zack Brock: electric violin. The Sirius Quartet: Gregor Heubner: violin; Fung Chern Hwei: violin; Ron Lawrence: viola; Jeremy Harman: cello.

Title: The Evolution Suite | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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