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Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite

Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh who overthrew traditional Egyptian religion, art and culture some 3,300 years ago, has been a subject of fascination for modern-era figures from Philip Glass to Agatha Christie. For this commissioned work in three parts, premiered and recorded at the 12th-annual Vision Festival in June 2007, veteran musical explorer Roy Campbell successfully channels the almost alien antiquity of his subject. But controversies sparked by the pharaoh reverberate to this day, from church/state debates to the very meaning of artistic expression, and Campbell’s bristling suite also carries within it the charged emotions and stormy clashes that have kept Akhenaten’s story relevant.

Delivered in sour tones and rumbling polyrhythms, the suite juxtaposes creakily exotic ensemble passages with fiery solo flights. Campbell, leading his quintet through strange and bold soundscapes, balances a contemplative lyricism with concentrated bursts of blazing energy on trumpet and flugelhorn. And in the suite’s evocative introductory sections, Campbell crosses the millennia with fluttering recorder lines or plaintive arghul pipe.

But the disc’s most sweeping moments come courtesy of Billy Bang’s violin and Bryan Carrott’s vibraharp, as each player crafts rapturous solos over the rolling grooves of “Pharaoh’s Revenge” (Parts 1 & 2). Bang leaps back and forth between the broad outlines and scribbled-in details of his soaring breaks, while Carrott builds rigorously linear structures with elaborate ornamentation. Drummer Zen Matsuura straddles antique rhythms and urban jazz grooves as he lays down the path, while bassist Hilliard Greene urges the ensemble forward on this confrontation with the past.

Originally Published