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Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet: One From None

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Saxophonist Michael Blake’s brief overtone wail at the onset of the opening title track here recalls Coltrane’s tension-building intro to “Leo” on Live in Japan. Blake then segues into a blues-tinged unaccompanied improvisation before the rest of the quintet joins in; the linear structure Blake had been hinting at now dissolves into a miasma of swirling shapes and textures, out of which a new form (the primary theme) finally emerges, only to be cast into uncertainty again by Blake, trombonist Blaser and keyboardist Russ Lossing (here on Rhodes), who stretch, contort and compress melody, timbre, time and rhythm as bassist Bates and drummer Jeff Davis hazily outline the piece’s contours. The overall effect is alluring yet unsettling-a sense that new beauty is here, spiked with danger; the center cannot hold. That mood of anticipation laced with dread (or at least uncertainty) permeates most of this set.

In the harsh, astringent “Dogfish,” Blake emits guttural barks (think Pharoah Sanders’ “Red, Black and Green”) that relax into turgid meditations. The nightmarish surrealism of “Recurring Dream” is more tranquil but no less intense: Lossing’s acoustic piano invokes a fragile peace, threatened by the swelling undertones from bass and horns. The final track, aptly titled “It Began to Get Dark,” finds Blake emitting cries that sound like the archetypical wail of a lost soul as those murky figures and images again swirl around him, manifesting and then disappearing into the mist. The tempo shifts profoundly: In other contexts, such acceleration might bespeak flight and freedom, but here it sounds more like a hunt and an escape. In this universe, improvisation isn’t just an art-it’s the only hope for survival.

Originally Published