Mark Fox Quartet +: Three Octaves Above The Sun

James Nadal By

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Making the decision to disconnect from music for over a decade has brought saxophonist Mark Fox an invigorating sense of motivation and inspiration, evident on Three Octaves Above The Sun. Committed to a personal spiritual quest, Fox's music is a hybrid of post-bop, progressive, African and transcendental, with intentional homage to those masters who determined the path of enlightenment through jazz.

Now back in Denver where he was raised, Fox has made a triumphant return to his roots, though it might have taken awhile. His younger days took him through Berklee, and further studying under Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef at the University of Massachusetts. He was always attracted to the avant-garde school of saxophonists, but it would be the John Coltrane record "Expression," that would influence his style and direction. After living the jazzman's life in Paris and New York, for strictly personal reasons Fox dropped out; this record is his comeback, but it is much more than that.

Vocalist Yolanda Bush offers the "Invocation," as a prayer to the African spirits which guided the music from its primordial source; Bush continues her incantation on "Guinean Proverb," as the tone and setting for the record are established. The obvious Coltrane sway comes to light in "One For JC," a heartfelt homage to the master himself, revealed in extended harmonious and reflective soloing. Then there is the spoken word entry of "Coltrane Recollections," Jimmy 'EsSpirit' Hopps united with Yolanda Bush in a poetic/lyrical tribute.

Fox switches to soprano sax on "Eastern Lullaby," determined by a characteristic mid-eastern rhythm. Pianist Stu Macaskie does an exemplary job weaving the piano arrangement, setting up an exotic backdrop. The title track features secure anchoring by bassist Kim Stone and drummer Tom Tilton, allowing Fox to take it into the higher atmospheres, as the name suggests. His avant-garde leanings come to light on "Memories Of Ghosts," exploratory phrasing pushing into assertive passages of chordal attacks.

Bush returns on the vocal based "White Dog," highlighted by the inventive implementation of the stringed ngoni, for a West African nuance. She encores on the standard "Nature Boy," Fox joining in with a soft interpretation of the popular melody line, laid back, but pleasant. The McCoy Tyner composition "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit," is reworked with a moderate Latin tempo, pianist Macaskie perfectly tuned into this genuine masterpiece. "Bamako Nights," is the appropriate vehicle for Malian songstress Awa Sangho, who contributes the authentic native narrative, as the session winds up back in Africa, where it all originated.

Music that cascades from the spiritual center brings its own energy source. There is no mistaking its intent to calm and heal, no matter how far out it comes from. Mark Fox is tuned into these forces, and has no qualms about revealing how he got here. Citing Coltrane from the outset leads to high expectations, but therein lies the challenge. He is adapting Trane's message that through altering ourselves we might have a hope for a better future; which is based on being here now, exactly where this music is.

Track Listing: Invocation; Guinean Proverb; One For JC; Eastern Lullaby; Coltrane Recollections; Three Octaves Above The Sun; Memories Of Ghosts; White Dog; Nature Boy; Walk Spirit Talk Spirit; Bamako Nights.

Personnel: Mark Fox: tenor and soprano saxophones; flute, kamal ngoni; Stu Macaski: piano; Kim Stone: bass; Tom Tilton: drums; Yolanda Bush: vocals (2, 5, 8, 9); Felix Ayodele: guitar, backing vocals (8, 11); Daniel Moreno: percussion, kamal ngoni (5, 8, 11); Jimmy Hopps: lap drums, vocals (5, 8, 11); Awa Sangho: vocals (11); Christopher Guillot: backing vocals (11).

Title: Three Octaves Above The Sun | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Cherry Sound Records


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