The clarity that's so immediately apparent in Marty Ehrlich's alto sound permeates his work, so that there's a quality at once naked and luminous in the music heard here. The quartet with trumpeter James Zollar, cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Pheeroan AkLaff and the concept harkens back to the early Ornette Coleman Quartet, each member committed to an intense lyricism, an insistence on the emotional power of blues and hymn. There are moments in the opening "Rites Rhythm" that even suggest something as specific as Coleman's "Lonely Woman."
The Coleman sensibility, though, is clearly filtered through the music of Julius Hemphill: three of the compositions are his and the influence is heard in the instrumentation. While Friedlander can readily substitute for bass, his cello echoes the role of Abdul Wadud in Hemphill's band, most notably in the concluding version of Hemphill's "Dogon AD." Ehrlich's own tunes share the evocative power of Hemphill's and can touch on bop and chamber music, often in close proximity. The 11-minute "Some Kind of Prayer" is elegiac, moving at a slow tempo from a surprisingly orchestral beginning through moments of deep sorrow to an insistent resolution with the burred sound of trumpet at the conclusion. Elsewhere, there's sudden drama in the rising figure that initiates the moody "From Strength to Strength."
This is often collective creation and Ehrlich's clarity is a valuable quality in a musician so fond of counterpoint, alto and trumpet dovetailing together into new territory on the themes. Ultimately one is less impressed by Ehrlich's execution than by the emotional depth that he consistently summons up, his quartet acting as a perfect extension of his sensibility. The spare simplicity of akLaff's drumming is a special triumph here, another emotionally eloquent voice. This is significant music with a strong sense of lineage, a band that combines rare articulation with a strong sense of purpose.
Track Listing: Rites Rhythm; Dung; Some Kind of Prayer; On the One; Slices of Light; Song for Tomorrow; From Strength to Strength; Dogon AD.
Personnel: Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone; James Zollar: trumpet; Erik Friedlander: cello; Pheeroan akLaff: drums.
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