So much of Singular Awakening is so splendid that complaining about its sequencing seems petty. It is necessary, though. The album doesn’t begin as advertised: Multireedist Mike McGinnis’ liners suggest that it’s all improvised, but it features a composition by each of his trio mates, bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Art Lande, at either end. The improvisations begin with the third track, which is the weakest by far.
This opening triptych is a compound misdirection. For one thing, while McGinnis tells us that they started the session “with nothing,” the recording starts with his clarinet and Lande’s piano playing a convoluted Ornette-ish melody, Swallow’s “Here Comes Everybody,” in unison—a “something,” obviously. (To add to the confusion, the sleeve credits McGinnis with only soprano saxophone, but he’s clearly playing clarinet on four of the 12 tracks.) It’s a lively, smart performance, and its successor, Lande’s “Shining Lights,” is dramatic and gorgeous. These, however, just throw “Insist on Something Sometimes” into greater relief: It begins with Swallow gradually finding his way into a groove, which McGinnis and Lande gamely delve into but find no purchase. Even without the composed contrasts, this improvisation is a shambles, and listeners expecting something else could be forgiven for abandoning ship then and there.
That would be a shame, though, because the other seven improvisations are wonders. Lande and Swallow lock in immediately on “A First Memory,” McGinnis following with a pretty, searching clarinet melody. “PolterGinnis” and “Shockinawe” both begin with amorphous abstractions that slowly coalesce into percussive forms; “Slow Dance in a Whisper,” on which McGinnis lays out, sounds like a demented take on Vivaldi’s lute concerto. Then come two more composed pieces—artful, but misplaced. Singular Awakening is a worthy but seriously flawed work, and proof positive that sequencing matters.
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