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Saxophone Summit: Visitation

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Here’s what this album suggests at various times: the soundtrack to a dark, slow-moving suspense film; an orchestra tuning up; six musicians practicing simultaneously in different rooms; a tedious sensitivity-training class; insistent conversation. According to a liner note, the focus is on “original compositions that suggest open rhythmic, harmonic and textural flows.” Whatever that means, it doesn’t yield swing. The Summiteers include some of the greatest jazzmen on the current scene: saxophonists Dave Liebman (soprano), Ravi Coltrane (tenor and soprano) and Joe Lovano (tenor, G soprano and alto clarinet), pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. Each musician contributes a composition, making the possibilities for a blowing session nil.

Among the saxophonists, Liebman is the standout soloist, with a writhing, alligator-wrestling-like workout on the title composition (by Lovano), a scurrying turn on Markowitz’s “Point” and a lyrical statement on McBee’s “Consequence.” Elsewhere, the drummer in Lovano emerges in his aggressive tenor solo on the title track, and Coltrane conveys a gentle poise on tenor on Hart’s abstract “Balkis.” The rhythm section stirs up a lot of every-man-for-himself activity throughout the album, making one wish for a straight-ahead groove from this trio at the next Summit meeting. Hart plays powerfully throughout, McBee’s dark bowing on “Consequence” is especially commanding and Markowitz’s dynamic range-from strategic plinks and plunks to rowdy Cecil Taylor-like fusillades-stirs the emotional curve. In fact, the rhythm section work overshadows the saxophones at times. In the end, while this album asks the listener to get out of his or her comfort zone, the rewards don’t always add up.

Originally Published