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Mark Gross: Riddle of the Sphinx

It becomes increasingly difficult to pull off albums like saxophonist Mark Gross’ Riddle of the Sphinx, a tone poem to Egypt, and assert any level of singularity, especially when a host of artists like Pharoah Sanders and Randy Weston have built discographies on various homages to Africa. So, since originality is tossed to the side, emotional poignancy and musical execution are the barometers for this album’s persuasiveness.

Indeed, Gross’ passionate wails and bold, sinewy tone draw you in immediately, as does his alluring, rhythmically hypnotic compositions, like “Valley of the Dry Bones” and “Moses in Egypt.” And with the stellar ensemble of agile drummer Brian Blade, bassist Darryl Hall, pianist Mulgrew Miller, vibraphonist Joe Locke, oud player John LaBarbara and percussionist Khalil Kwame Bell laying infectious, transportive grooves, it’s hard to deny this album’s allure.

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