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Half a century into its development, free improvisation is still a risky scenario for the creative musician. Virtuosity and attentive listening skills are merely basic foundations; a willingness to subvert ego to the group is essential in any true collective. It takes musicians with sympathetic sensibilities to produce a free jazz album of truly exceptional quality. The Levitation Shuffle is such an album.
Alto saxophonist Wally Shoup, bassist Reuben Radding, drummer Greg Campbell and pianist Gust Burns all have longstanding ties to Seattle's avant-garde scene, where this session was recorded. The unofficial leader, Shoup is well known in the underground for his scorching histrionics alongside electric guitarists Nels Cline and Thurston Moore. An adherent of non-idiomatic improvisation, Shoup plays with a riotous textural sensibility that stretches beyond blues-based idioms and into worlds of pure sound. Taking advantage of the acoustic environment, he varies his palette, blurring his attack from swirls of melancholy chiaroscuro to searing embers of blustery fervor.
A regular member of one of Shoup's many trios, ubiquitous bassist Reuben Radding demonstrates a far-reaching facility, alternating lithe figures with a sinewy arco technique that hemorrhages raw emotion. Whether throttling gnarled motifs, or eliciting spectral harmonics, his resonant tone and agile phrasing is captivating. A dominant force, he nearly steals the show.
Another trio-mate of Shoup's, drummer Greg Campbell, mixes his frenetic trap set palpitations with kaleidoscopic percussion and scintillating cymbal work, lending an expansive array to the session's timbral range. Pianist Gust Burns is the group's newcomer. With a modernist touch inspired by Contemporary Classical forms, he dabbles in delicate filigrees as well as pounding tone clusters, accentuating and deconstructing forms with élan.
Segueing from the cathartic to the introspective, the album encapsulates an array of aural soundscapes, from somber, melancholy reflection to roiling, unhinged fury. The quartet's empathetic dexterity is palpable, their intuitive coordination tangible. The Levitation Shuffle is a rewarding document of free improvisation from the Pacific Northwest, enabling listeners to discover a fertile, creative scene beyond the usual metropolitan centers.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.