This trio set from three of New York’s most imaginative left-field musicians – Tim Berne drummer/vibraphonist Ches Smith, pianist Craig Taborn and tone-bending viola player Mat Maneri – displays such an unusual balance of compositional tautness (Smith wrote all the pieces) and spontaneity that assigning it to any jazz, improv or contemporary classical box is impossible. The nine-minute title track is typical, in the explicitness of the opening bell chime, Taborn’s show-and-hide chordal pulse, Maneri’s graceful ascents and a heated finale sprayed with brusque percussion rumbles. Cryptic viola melodies shadowed by rolling piano figures accelerate to frisky dances, stern tom-tom grooves stalk alongside intimate piano-viola dialogues, the fiddle equivalent of Jan Garbarek’s long sax outbreaths curl across dark landscapes before storms break.
Responsible for two of the strangest, most beguiling acid folk albums of the early 1970s, jan dukes de grey have long been a legendary name on the prog/folk/psych collector circuit. When cherry tree reissued sorcerers and the extraordinary mice and rats in the loft on one handy double cd last year (to widespread acclaim, we might add), it seemed to be the final word on the band. However, during conversations with arch-duke derek noy the bands founder, guitarist, singer and songwriter it transpired that jan dukes had actually gone on to record a third album, strange terrain, that had failed to appear at the time, largely due to the emergence of punk and the ensuing collapse of western civilisation as we know it.
Elixir is the first album Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur has recorded as a leader for ECM in 14 years. It is an interesting number for Mazur, because she has also spent 14 years as a member of saxophonist Jan Garbarek's recording and touring ensembles. He appears on about half of Elixir as Mazur's only collaborator (apart from producer Manfred Eicher). That said, the solo pieces are the first remarkable aspect of this set. When Mazur works alone, her pieces defy everything we think we know about solo percussion recordings: there is a warmth and directness in these proceedings that is songlike rather than merely hypnotic or virtuosic.
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