Living By Lanterns: New Myth/Old Science

As co-designers of one of the more intriguing archival projects in a while, Mike Reed and Jason Adasiewicz had their work cut out for them. Commissioned by Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio, home of the Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection, they had to derive a cohesive set of songs from 700 hours of previously unheard material. The music (which ultimately focused on a 1961 rehearsal tape) had to be suitable for a closing-night premiere at the 2011 Chicago Jazz Festival. And it had to justify a rare coming-together of top improvisers from the Windy City and the Big Apple-two of the cities Ra called home.

An electrifying hit at the festival, the nonet, since dubbed Living by Lanterns, turns in a more contained but still elevating performance of Ra’s music on New Myth/Old Science. Two dualities stand out: the smart pairing off of players in contrapuntal settings and the coolly synced drumming of Reed and New York counterpart Tomas Fujiwara. The Chicago cast also includes vibraphonist Adasiewicz, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Joshua Abrams and, on two cuts, electronics artist Nick Butcher. Guitarist Mary Halvorson, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock make up the Big Apple squad.

Ward, who now lives in New York, ignites the fiercely swinging “2000 West Erie,” his acrid tone in contrast to the classic tenor sound German native Laubrock brings to the boppish “Forget B.” The dirge-like playing of Bynum and Abrams leads to an explosive storm of strings and horns on “Grow Lights.” Reid’s bittersweet lines, accompanied by Halvorson’s metronomic under-strokes, create a nostalgic/noirish feeling on “Shadow Boxer’s Delight.” An understated and unexpected streak of klezmer animates the finale, “Old Science,” which, like most of the songs, is in the end less a reflection of Sun Ra than a tonally rich distillation of his visionary sound.