The Hidden NotesSpirit Of Adventure by saxophonist John Martin and his quintet (Ralph Wylde on vibes, guitarist Rob Updegraff, drummer Tim Giles and Tim Fairhall on bass) (mentioned briefly here) is a project that has had a four-year gestation. Calling the naturally occurring harmonics that are produced over the fundamental by all instruments the "hidden notes," Martin has put enormous effort into bringing out and controlling the harmonic possibilities of the saxophone through multiphonics, controlling the overtone patterns through different fingering and circular breathing (see here for more).
The important thing to realize, however, is that this is most definitely not a gimmick, and sounds completely natural in his hands. Furthermore, all of the compositions on this very impressive double CD release are by Martin, and it is only the music itself, as realized by the group, that ultimately matters to the listener. The "hidden notes" are but a part of Martin's arsenal, and his sound, which is admittedly unique (when he uses this extra technique), but quite easy to get used to, would not mean anything unless he and his music had something to say.
And say something he does. The band is very tight and functions as a single musical organism. The vibraphone and guitar of Wyld and Updegraff blend perfectly, functioning as a piano would in a "standard" saxophone quartet, but with more sonic possibilities.
Martin's compositions have an organic feel which is reflected in how they develop. Their construction, harmony and rhythms would place them within the "advanced mainstream" if a label needs to be assigned, and the pieces attract the mind as well as the body. Many of the grooves are infectious and will get you moving; yet there are enough intricacies and "out" playing for the mind.
On the first disc, there are two "Preludes" which are more experimental and dwell in the pure sound realm, and are actually quite interesting. Otherwise, each tune has a personality; "Pentacision, Part 1" has a loping rhythm upon the circular, overtoned theme is played, while "Heptopia" opens with airy vibes which is echoed by Martin's saxophone overtone and harmonics. "Spirit Of Adventure" is a real standout with a terrific groove and sectional development.
The second disc has only one "Prelude." "The Optimistic Pessimist" features a very nice line which Martin plays completely with multiphonics, and "Unity" would a nice, straight-ahead tune if not for the multiphonics. "Whisper" continues the use of multiphonics on a tune which is a bit quirkier while "Giant's Stomp" and "Eddies" have introductions which harken back to "Pentacision, Part 1."
The Hidden Notes -Spirit Of Adventure is a fine body of work that is music which can be enjoyed at many levels. Martin has indeed staked out some new territory and made it his own, and the discs are well worth extended listens.
CD 1: Pentacision, Part 1; Pentacision, Part 2; Heptopia; Prelude; Spirit Of
Adventure; Prelude; Tick Tock; CD 2: The Optimistic Pessimist; Prelude; Folklore;
Whisper; Giant's Stomp; Eddies; Unity.
Ralph Wyld: vibraphone; Rob Updegraff: guitar; John Martin: tenor saxophone;
Tim Giles: drums; Tim Fairhall: double bass.
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