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June 1998

Mark Isham
Afterglow
Columbia Jazz

Discerning jazz fans have known for some time to steer clear of Mark Isham's gooey soundscapes. His whole textural approach of drenching his trumpet in long delay lines smacked of style without substance...and certainly no swing. Which is why Afterglow comes as such a surprise. Although it is in fact music from the motion picture of the same name (produced by Robert Altman, written and directed by Alan Rudolph), it stands on its own as a first rate album of jazz. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have heavyweights like drummer Billy Higgins, pianist Geri Allen, vibist Gary Burton and saxophonist Charles Lloyd aboard.

Burton lends his crystalline touch to "Hope And Charity," blending beautifully with violinist Sid Page against the airy backdrop of Higgins' sensitive brushwork. Lloyd blows with typical fluidity and daring on the poignant opener "After The Glow Has Gone," building to Trane-like peaks of urgency spurred on by Allen's spikey comping. Lloyd and Allen take a more zen-like approach on the fragile "Yeses, Noes And In-Betweens," which conjures up a distinctive "Flamenco Sketches" vibe. Lloyd's stirring a capella statement on the intro to "For Charles" is enhanced by Higgins' dramatic use of mallets. As the band heads into a loping, mid-tempo swing section and Higgins goes to work on cutting up the beat in his own inimitable, ebullient fashion, it's hard to imagine that the man was ever sick at all, let alone facing a near-death situation with his liver transplants. Indeed, Billy's highly energized playing on "The Frenzy," a highly interactive, open ended quartet piece that has him swapping melodic statements with Lloyd, Allen and bassist Jeff Littleton, shows that the great drummer is right back on top of his game. And his touch with brushes and sticks on the gentle "Undecided" is simply sublime.

Isham distinguishes himself on equal footing throughout and demonstrates some fine muted trumpet work on the melancholy waltz-time ballad "A Life Suspended" as well as some bold open horn playing on "Yeses And Noes," which features more gorgeous vibe tones from Burton.

This evocative CD, easily the best in Isham's extensive discography, makes me want to rush out and see the movie.

Originally published in June 1998
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