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October 1997

Michael Formanek
Nature Of The Beast
Enja Records

For his most recent musical journey, acoustic bassist Formanek allies himself with trumpeter Dave Douglas, trombonist Steve Swell, and drummer Jim Black. Tim Berne on alto, Tony Malaby on tenor, and Chris Speed on clarinet appear on selected tracks.

From start to finish, eccentricity, fueled by quirky grooves and harmonies and open-ended blowing, is the order of the day. "Grand Bizarre" has decidedly Middle Eastern influences. Here, Formanek begins alone (deftly spinning out a richly resonant minor-based line), and then hooks up with Black and the other ensemble members, weaving a colorful tapestry that eventually unravels into a freely swirling blur. The seven remaining compositions may be less graphic in depicting a specific scene; however, they are equally adventurous. Decently harmonized up front, "Emerger" features another Formanek/Black duet; the vague chordal references give Douglas and Swell the latitude to play coloristically one moment and more conventionally the next. Of the album's eight compositions, "Thick Skin/Dangerous Crustaceans" is the most extended. With the guests and core members often improvising at the same time, the musical conversations are frequently lively, an artful balance of control and chaos. It all demonstrates that the nature of this beast is far ranging and unpredictable but not without thought.

Originally published in October 1997
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