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Active Ingredients: Titration

Derek Taylor By

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One of the most enduring aspects of improvised music is the infinite mutability of musician associations. Band borders are among the most porous of any musical genre. Players switch and trade-up with catalyzing regularity. It’s one of the few styles of musical expression that actively encourages continuous recombinating and is made all the more healthy through a resistance to long-term convention and custom.

Drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Tom Abbs are both of a younger generation that has internalized this loose ideology. Older, but no less adventurous, are saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and trombonist Steve Swell. Together, these four men form the core cooperative Active Ingredients, a band name that echoes the galvanizing energy inherent in their association. Also in the ranks for Titration is a trio of Chicagoans, colleagues of Taylor’s who bridge the complimentary styles of East Coast and Midwest free jazz.

“Song For Dyani” gets things off to a wobbly but enthusiastic start as the band slips a little on its shimmy down the opening theme. Moondoc soon takes charge and guides things back on course with a plangent alto line. Swell follows, but for some inexplicable reason the track fades out as his cavorting brass is just hitting stride.

“Velocity” is a dirge curiously devoid of a traceable tempo for much of its duration, a drifting cloud of palpitating brushes, craggy arco bass, mewling brass and fluttery alto figures. “Slate” showcases strong rhythm as Taylor and Abbs trade percussive patterns and Moondoc skronks on top with Swell and Mazurek. The full septet arrives for “Modern Mythology,” a rhythmic vamp-driven piece that adds Boykin’s boisterous tenor to the fray as fine complement to Moondoc’s mercurial alto.

The brief “Absence” matches the horns of Moondoc, Swell and Mazurek with Abbs' hummingbird arco and clattery hi-hat in a fractious union. The bassist’s switch to meaty plucking signals a rapid race for tune’s finish and the horns answer by chattering excitedly. Boykin returns for the somber sounding title, track, voicing a melancholic theme embellished by his harmonizing partners. Moondoc’s higher register alto contrasts in tone, but not sentiment. He traverses the dour terrain in another sprint followed closely by Swell’s sputtering brass before deferring for a Boykin tour de force.

Taylor tackles “Dependent Origination” by his lonesome. While brief, the track offers an intriguing distillation of the more melodic side of his drumming and a strong debt to Denis Charles. The disc’s grand finale arrives with the anthem-worthy “Other Peoples' Problems” where the core quartet convenes for a last joint sally. Moondoc thrives in the emotion-heavy surroundings, sculpting the sort of pathos-pregnant solo at which he so uniformly excels.


Track Listing: Song For Dyani/ Velocity/ Slate/ Visual Industries/ Modern Mythology/ Absence/ Titration/ Dependent Origination/ Other Peoples

Personnel: Chad Taylor- drums; Jemeel Moondoc- alto saxophone; Tom Abbs- bass, hi-hat; Steve Swell- trombone; Rob Mazurek- cornet; David Boykin- tenor saxophone; Avreeayl Ra- percussion. Recorded: July 5-6, 2002, Chicago.

Title: Titration | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Delmark Records


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