Bassist Max Johnson continues down a path of excellent releases with his homage to the 1960s eponymous Sci-Fi show. He is joined in this new quartet iteration by Ingrid Laubrock on tenor, violist Matt Maneri and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and these versatile musicians bring their many gifts to bear on a fascinating and varied septet of compositions.
The pieces straddle any historical and stylistic lines that can be imagined, in both micro and macrocosm. Take "No. 48 Living in Harmony," just as a convenient example, which moves from a stretch of neo-Baroquean chamber music toward what sounds like a mixture of Spontaneous Music Ensemble pointillism and Noah Howard's middle 1960s work for ESP. Much of what may at first seem a historical disconnect is due to the complex relationship between the strings and wind players, who often inhabit a very different stylistic space from Fujiwara. Far from fragmentation however, the tension proves fertile, allowing for some beautiful counterpoint and stylistic interplay as the volume slowly increases. The track's pre-composed melodic material is distributed throughout, appearing with powerful import at strategic moments, a mixture of modality and chromaticism that adds another layer of historical complexity.
Unlike a lot of "free jazz," much of which is really not very free at all, The American/European dichotomy comes in the service of some extraordinary dynamic contrast. Restraint is often the order of the day, but this does not mean a lack of energy — far from it! Even the quietest moments are suffused with import and anticipation, so that those moments of fire that finally erupt take on special significance. The music is challenging, but there is always something to hold on to — a pregnant pause, a sustain, a repeated phrase, a snatch of melody rife with harmonic implication that disappears just as quickly. Most of all, a certain sense of mystery pervades everything, and this may be the disc's most winning aspect as the music progresses and the extremes between tension and resolution are traversed.
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