At last, a re-issue of the 1963 recording of Cowell playing several of his piano works in his casual style, so that the listener regards the unusual sounds and techniques as completely natural within the context of each piece's imagery. A recording of the complete piano works is definitely needed, but this CD, with Cowell's spoken commentary at the end, is a precious thing to have at the moment.
Shakuhachi players of old followed the path of ichion-jobutsu, or “enlightenment in a single tone.” The spiritual element of the simple bamboo flute with its notched mouthpiece and five fingerholes is essential to its existence, and part of what led Henry Cowell to refer to it as “the universal flute.” Ralph Samuelson’s album shares that name, and presents remarkably evocative works for the shakuhachi by American composers.
Pieces by nine very different composers make up this fascinating collection of works for string quartet entitled Short Stories, performed by the Kronos Quartet. Elliott Sharp's Digital (1986) is a hard-edged rhythmic study using the instrument bodies as drums, with objects inserted in the strings to create rattling, shaker, and tambourine-like sounds. Steve Mackey's arrangement (1989) of the classic Chicago blues tune "Spoonful" (1960), by the prolific Willie Dixon, exaggerates the gestures of the song and employs complex harmonies and modernistic devices like string crunches, etc. John Oswald's Spectre (1990) opens with the naive sound of the quartet tuning up.
Six trio selections by the Stanley Cowell Trio, featuring Stanley Clarke on bass and Jimmy Hopps on skins. Elastic and flowing best describe the mellow "Maimoun"; Cowell's crisp keyboarding is determined and feisty, and Clarke's dark, moody bass solo consummates the excursion. Cowell and Clarke display amazing technique on "Ibn Mukhtarr Mustapha," and Hopps' impressionistic drumming is head clearing.
Musa Ancestral Streams remains a relative oddity in the pantheon of jazz's black consciousness movement – a solo piano set of stunning reach and scope, its adherence to intimacy contrasts sharply with the bold, multi-dimensional sensibilities that signify the vast majority of post-Coltrane excursions into spiritual expression, yet the sheer soulfulness and abandon of Stanley Cowell's performance nevertheless vaults the record into the same physical and metaphysical planes.