Cole has collected and learned to play instruments from all over the globe yet finds much of his inspiration-at least on this vibrant live recording, 11/20/99-in American civil rights history. Nearly every minute of music on 11/20/99, has been dedicated to a range of figures from the canonical (W.E.B. Dubois) to the recent and controversial (Amadou Diallo). While Cole could have very easily resorted to diatribe and posturing, he and his ensemble instead come up music of subtlety and surprising power.
Cole's Untempered Ensemble draws from Mingus in its drive, its bluesy shuffle and wild polyphony. In its collision of modern and older styles and sounds it also resembles John Carter's Roots and Folklore project or even Ives' folk-music assimilations. On his expansive suite "Freedom 1863: A Fable" and the two long pieces dedicated to Fanny Lou Hamer and Amadou Diallo, Cole adroitly commingles voices less familiar to jazz contexts with more standard instruments. Unusual sonorities and instruments of variable pitch, such as Cole's own Tibetan trumpet or bamboo flute, unsettle but also spark the jumping group passages thick with saxophone, walking bass and drums. Out of the buzzing mix surface evocative patches of sound: the blues-inflected slide guitar, (Cooper-Moore's fretless Banjo on "Harriet Tubman") or the fife and drum (alongside Joe Daley's loping tuba lines on "Frederick Douglass"). Eminently listenable, cohesive and frequently striking, this recording from the Untempered Ensemble is well worth seeking out.