When purists maintain their Cheney-like insistence that nobody could have foreseen Miles Davis
recording something as incendiary as Bitches Brew
(Columbia, 1969), they reveal a blind spot the size of the Chrysler Building. The pre-Brew
signs were as plain as the glasses on Stanley Crouch's face: First there was Filles de Kilimanjaro
(Columbia, 1968), which codified changes referenced on Nefertiti
(Columbia, 1967); following Filles
was In a Silent Way
(Columbia, 1969), whichonce past the revelatory opening figure of Joe Zawinul's title trackis basically two grooves stretched out over nearly twenty minutes apiece. The roots of saxophonist Jason Rigby's The Sage
are grounded in those transitional recordings that hinted the world was about to explode.
The front line and rhythm section seem to be at cross-purposes on "Magenta": Rigby and Russ Johnson are in a shambling sort of unison, building not quite an echo as they play the establishing figure, while Gerald Cleaver and Cameron Brown are jumping on the floor and throwing the furniture around the room. The melody gets another level of texture and resonance when Mike Holober adds Fender Rhodes to the mix. It all seems counterproductive on its face, but "Magenta" is like one of those computer-generated pictures where the only way to see the actual picture is to find the right angle and squint. Cleaver and Brown's cacophony is a cleverly-camouflaged foundation for Rigby, Johnson and Holober to throw splashes of color against the wall, and the end result is both startling and satisfying.
A sense of anarchy can be found almost everywhere on The Sage, even on the thoughtful neo-ballad, "Shift of Color." While this may be a shift in direction from "Magenta" and the super-fast post-bop bomber "Crux," it's not an actual shift in color. There is a marvelous sense of immediacy on every track, as if Rigby detailed the grooves five minutes before the session and otherwise left everything to chance. "Tone Poem" is just that, with Rigby and Holober harmonizing and then creating a dizzying dialogue with Brown, while the hypnotic "Slip" swirls and slides as Holober lays down explosions of Rhodes that would make Herbie Hancock nod in approval.
Much of the anarchy comes from Cleaver, who is in his own private Idaho for most of the session; other than some nearly-straight timekeeping on the kinetic closer "Jealous Moon," Cleaver goes his own way throughout the date. He cuts a sizable swath on "Color," even on brushes, and his in-the-clear opening to the title track towers so high, Johnson's short solo figures make it seem like he doesn't want to interrupt. Johnson's overall tone dovetails perfectly with Rigby all the way through; Johnson keeps it open and anchored, while Rigby flirts with the same stratospheric heights Wayne Shorter explored with Miles.
The Sage gives purists something new to rail about: Not only does Jason Rigby revive music that presaged the recording Miles Haters love to hate, but Rigby and his partners do the job so extraordinarily well.