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Alex Coke: Iraqnophobia

Texas-based composer/saxophonist Alex Coke tackles social themes in a pair of extended compositions for the Creative Opportunity Orchestra. The title piece obviously references Iraq, while the other, “Wake Up Dead Man,” is inspired by the 1972 book of the same name by Bruce Jackson about African-American work songs in Texas prisons. The CD booklet contains evocative photographs by Alan Pogue, which are meant to accompany and augment the music. The work is essentially a multimedia piece constricted by the limitations of the CD format. Perhaps because of that, the music’s connection to the subject matter is ambiguous; the program is a bit hard to discern, especially in the Iraq piece.

Divorced from the theme, the music is often quite fine. “Wake Up” is especially effective in the way it incorporates country blues into what is essentially a big-band format. Among the solos, trombonist Brian Allan’s wild take on “The Sheik of Araby” stands out. Soprano saxophonist Steve Vague impresses as well. The forced Orientalisms in the Iraq piece are anachronistic and off-putting. There’s no denying, however, Coke’s talent as a composer and orchestrater. All in all, a very worthwhile effort.

Originally Published