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Alex Cline: For People In Sorrow

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Too often tribute albums are based on reverence that leaves the heart and soul of the honoree behind. Other times, the subject’s material gets re-contextualized to the point of absurdity. Alex Cline approached Roscoe Mitchell’s “People in Sorrow” hoping to reimagine the Art Ensemble of Chicago epic while maintaining the elements that made it so vital when it was recorded in 1969. (His liner notes betray the same blend of humility and enthusiasm that his twin brother, Nels, expressed in his interpretations of Andrew Hill’s music.) This rendition makes for an intense listen that stands as both a singular statement and a salute to the composer.

Recorded at the 2011 Angel City Jazz Festival, it features an 11-piece band plus a poet, conductor and a Buddhist nun who chants above the ensemble via prerecorded video. The 67-minute performance sounds as much like a contemporary new-music piece as it does an extended free-jazz vehicle. Vinny Golia (reeds), Oliver Lake (flute, saxophones) and Dan Clucas (cornet, flute) evoke the original group’s fire music when they wail together. Later, Cline’s timpani sets the scene for guitarist G.E. Stinson’s loud blues licks. A vague theme appears a few times, most noticeably from the rich baritone Dwight Trible early on, and from the group in the roaring final minutes.

For People in Sorrow comes with a DVD that replicates the CD’s performance. It’s a worthy companion for no other reason than to see the vision of Sister Dang Nghiem projected onstage, tolling a bell and chanting in Vietnamese. At that point, Cline takes Mitchell’s piece beyond the Art Ensemble to a new level of intensity.

Originally Published