This two-CD harbinger of the future contains material recorded from January 1988 to March 1990 by the Mosaic Sextet, which contained trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassoonist Michael Rabinowitz, violinist Mark Feldman, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Harvey Sorgen, all of whom are significant figures today. Though the Mosaic Sextet gigged occasionally, it was mainly a rehearsal band.
Most of the compositions on these CDs-one which was out of print, the other previously unissued-are by Douglas and Stevens, though Rabinowitz wrote two. Among Douglas' aims is to blur the distinction between notated and improvised music, so that it all sounds spontaneous. His writing has a strong 20th-century classical component. Stravinsky marked his work at this time. His "Gang Wars for Sextet" is through-composed and "Earth Tones" is an extended-form piece. Stevens' major virtue is his ability to write fresh, attractive melodies, but he's also a provocative composer. Steven's "Trio for Sextet" is a kind of mini-concerto grosso. His "Drum Song, " though a hymnlike piece, features Sorgen's drumming, and he's also contributed an extended-form piece, "Anthem." His almost 15-minute "Today, This Moment" highlights kaleidoscopically changing collective improvisation, as well as his gently dissonant piano work. Rabinowitz's "Bassoon Lines" is multisectioned, and his "Motivation" is a happy, swinging piece.
There's top notch improvising throughout the set. Douglas plays magnificently; check out his huge-toned lower register tone on "Mosaic." No matter what challenges are posed by the compositions he's got the answer. Rabinowitz and Feldman not only add unique colors to the ensemble, but also do a great job of fitting their work appropriately into the context of the selections they're performing, swinging convincingly when that's called for or breaking up their lines unpredictably during improvised ensemble passages. Stevens' soloing seems drawn from an unusual combination of influences-Bill Evans, Cecil Taylor, Wynton Kelly-but he puts ideas together quite coherently. And every time I focus on their playing, Fonda and Sorgen are doing something right. The six men who made this set have accomplished plenty that's impressive since, but their efforts on these two discs will always rate among their finest achievements.