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01/10/12

Marilyn Mazur
Celestial Circle
ECM Records

Paced by the gallant, round piano of John Taylor, the austere mezzo-soprano of Josefine Cronholm and Anders Jormin’s space-carving bass, percussionist-composer Marilyn Mazur explores diverse territory on these pellucid 14 tracks. Each member of the band—also called Celestial Circle, and making its recorded debut here—contributes, and there’s no apparent leader. This is a no-drama disc; imminence is paramount. Only as the music unfolds does the versatility of the players become clear.

While most tracks feel northern European, others, like “Drumrite” and “Antilope Arabesque,” conjure Arabia, even a Buddhist shrine. The former cut is a remarkable piece of world music twining Cronholm and Mazur’s voices in symmetry with Jormin and Mazur’s percussion. “Drumrite” is where the group breaks out; there’s heat, sparked by Mazur’s most torrid beats. The beautiful, appropriately loping “Antilope” is deliberate and haunting. Absorbing it is to enter a place dedicated to quickening the mind.

Overall the album is cool, even at its most experimental. “Oceanique” is otherworldly, Cronholm’s ululations both cutting and transcendental. Rigor and respect animate cuts like “Winterspell,” an icy roundelay, and the ambiguous, restless “Tour Song,” among the busiest tracks of this subtle program. You have to listen into Mazur’s music; it’s not forward and is by no means flashy. It’s largely beautiful, its process empathetic and exploratory.

Is it jazz? It doesn’t feel like it. This is world music in the tradition of the art song. It seems thoroughly composed and speaks of enormous preparation. That’s not to denigrate it; at its best, Celestial Circle is haunting, even revelatory. At the same time, it’s reserved, making its surprises—like the duet between a bowed Armin and a playful Mazur at the start of “Among the Trees”—simultaneously eerie and playful. This is a concert, not a show. Quiet, please, and turn off your cell phones.

Originally published in December 2011
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