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The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise

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Joel Forrester, pianist and composer of the Microscopic Septet, says the band might come off like a revival group, but what they attempt to revive never really existed. “A revival of the future, then?” he asks. While such quips usually serve as nothing more than good copy, Forrester can be taken at his word. The septet came to life in 1980s New York and once included John Zorn, but this isn’t downtown experimentation. They aren’t straight swingers either, despite having four saxophonists who can get lush when they want to. Take a little from Column A and a little from Column B, and then add something else.

Manhattan Moonrise marks the first album of new Microscopic Septet compositions in 25 years, following an extended hiatus, subsequent reunion and 2010’s acclaimed Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk. With one exception, the lineup has remained virtually the same throughout that time. Forrester and soprano saxophonist Philip Johnston both write for the band, blending adventure and reverence with a pinch of dry wit. The program begins with harmonized saxophones in “When You Get in Over Your Head,” followed later by Mike Hashim’s texturally brazen tenor solo.

Likewise, the four horns argue and wail on the way to the semi-sweet theme of “Blue” like the World Saxophone Quartet just crashed the party. During Dave Sewelson’s baritone solo in “Hang It on a Line,” the group transitions into the changes of the ’60s classic “Hey Joe.” Along with the ingenuity, tracks like “No Time” show that the band’s conviction remains high when they play it straight. In fact, Manhattan Moonrise reveals more subtle tricks of harmony and melodic invention with each listen.

Originally Published