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Reed and wind instrumentalist Ned Rothenberg is an almost frighteningly talented musician and composer. Without the charismatic approach of other downtown playerspeople like John Zorn and Elliott Sharp, who borrowed from different genres to define their soundRothenberg's focus has been on mastering his instrument. And despite his humble statement of hearing a "not yet fully formed voice, included in the liner notes [applicable only to "Trials of Argo" to this collection of self-released recordings from 1980 to 1985, what is apparent some twenty years later is that Rothenberg is still concerned with the same thing: the creation of a virtuosic voice withinnot on top ofa variety of musical settings and ideas.
Most of the dozen pieces here, culled from three records on his Lumina label, are unaccompanied and were created early in Rothenberg's years in New York while he was woodshedding and beginning to play solo concerts. The variety of moods he creates on a monophonic instrument is just astounding. Most of the pieces are for alto saxophone, with a few devoted to bass clarinet or a custom-built double ocarina. But a few tracks also capture duo playing, making this a valuable document of the early days of the downtown scene as well. "Polysemy is a fantastic piece of work, with Gerry Hemingway playing steel drum (in addition to trap kit); and "Kakeai is a good dose of saxophone skronk, with Zorn also playing alto.
Of particular interest is the opening track, the 22-minute "Trials of the Argo, a studio construction which pairs his horn with recordings of Bob Ostertag's analog synthesizer and Jim Katzin's violin (the three had come to New York in 1978 as the Fall Mountain trio). Also included are three previously unreleased bass clarinet tracks from 1991 and 1998two featuring real-time processing of Rothenberg's playing by David Weinsteinthat show his continued interest in subsuming into sonic ideas, rather than vamping on them.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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