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Darius Jones: Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) (Northern Spy)

A review of the alto saxophonist's solo album interpreting the work of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, and more

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Darius Jones: Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation)
The cover of Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) by Darius Jones

Alto saxophonist Darius Jones didn’t compose any of the five compositions on Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation). But whether he’s interpreting Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, modern iconoclast Georgia Anne Muldrow, or a jazz standard, Jones takes ownership of everything on this solo recital, filling it with deeply personal explorations. Like many solo saxophone albums, it might not be easy listening, but it’s easy to get swept up in the intensity of the performance.

Taken from a 2019 appearance at Portland, Oregon’s Holocene, the recording sounds as if it were made with a device simply set up in a corner of the room. The natural reverberations of the space become part of the music, shaping the tone of Jones’ alto. During Muldrow’s “Figure No. 2” the instrument almost sounds like an oboe, producing a reedy, nasal tone. Built largely on a single phrase that Jones repeats with variations in pitch and speed for nearly 10 minutes, the track feels equal parts hypnotic and unsettling, before naturally fading for 45 barely audible seconds. Coleman’s “Sadness” and Mitchell’s “Nonaah,” both idiosyncratic in their original forms, get stretched and bent with long tones, staccato blasts, and some sneaky multiphonics.

Raw Demoon Alchemy never becomes a mere showcase of technique due to the diversity of the material. “Beautiful Love,” a 1930s tune recorded by Bing Crosby and Bill Evans, among others, comes between Ornette and Roscoe, adding sentimentality to the mix. After an opening set of brays that would make Marshall Allen envious, Sun Ra’s “Love in Outer Space” features Jones circular-breathing for an onslaught of altissimo wails before finally breaking into the melody. He delivers a perfect example of tension and release, with a playful feeling retained from the original work.

Learn more about Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) on Amazon & Apple Music!

Darius Jones: The Mastering of Musical Allegory

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.