Rarely has the phrase "sum of its parts" applied so accurately to an all-star jazz gathering as it does to Equal Interest, the trio of violinist Leroy Jenkins, pianist Myra Melford and reedist Joseph Jarman. On its eponymous debut the group doesn't merely pool its collective experience-and with Jenkins and Jarman being key members of Chicago's Association for the Advancement for Creative Musicians, and the latter a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, that alone is nothing to sneeze at-but it brings a startlingly wide world of sounds to the table. While members of the AACM routinely trafficked nonchalantly in diverse styles, the range delivered by Equal Interest is stunning nonetheless, adding to the expected fusion of jazz, boogie woogie and blues with a complement of international sounds that never sounds like a lazy hodgepodge.
Much of the credit has to go to Jarman, who when not playing music works as a Buddhist priest and practices Aikido. Whether using more exotic instruments like the Vietnamese oboe or just playing flute, his complex lines-an arresting mix of soft-edged lyricism and sharply-voiced abstraction-are drenched with phrases and modalities redolent of the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. Elsewhere, Melford plays the harmonium, reinforcing the Indian flavor, as do the dusky improvisations of Jenkins. The group also tackles ethnic material more directly on a beautiful take of the Armenian folk song "Apricots From Eden," which Melford learned from hearing duduk master Djivan Gasparyan play it. The through-composed nature of much of the material along with the spare instrumentation contributes to a delicate chamber-like feel, but it's balanced by an unusual, folksy strain of tranquillity; equally beautiful, hearty and fragile, all at once.