Billy Bang/Bill Cole, S/T – The recently deceased Billy Bang recorded this excellent duo album with wind player Bill Cole in 2009 at the University of Virginia Chapel in Charlottesville. Three of the set’s six tunes are improvisations, and each track features Bang on violin and Cole on one of the following: digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute or shenai. The what I assume to be is the natural reverb from the chapel gives the recording a spacious feel, and it sounds as if you are there with them. The pair create a wide range of colors and sonorities (the violin and shenai combination is laden with overtones), and they weave in and around each other – each player displaying an ease with, and understanding of, the approach of the other player. Just check out “Improvisation (violin, flute)”. These are two sensitive musicians who are in total communication with each other and who work towards new modes and forms of expression.
UNTEMPERED ENSEMBLE: My most recent review of Bill Cole’s works was in issue # 115, where he & his compatriots got a fine rating… this outing (live again) has them playing at Syracuse U (September, 2009), & again they are in fine form. A new aspect on this performance is the addition of vocal works by Althea SullyCole (a first for Bill)… they are skillfully woven into the power-packed (& long) sessions! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find sound samples (or YOUTUBE vids), so you’ll just have to rely on my ears… my absolute favorite track (clocking in at 21:48), was “A Man Of Outstanding Quality Is Preeminent Among His Comrades”… it runs the whole circuit… slow build, intimate percussion and wonderful vocals. The thing to remember about music from Bill & compatriots is that it is NOT “pop” music… you must actually LISTEN to this to comprehend it… in that sense, it get my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, especially for folks who want some ADVENTURE in their listening experience. I give it an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97. Get more information at the SITE. Rotcod Zzaj
Bill Cole, a multicultural multi-instrumentalist, is one of the guys at the top of the hierarchy in the improvised music scene, having been at it in earnest since at least the late 70s.
Earlier this year I marveled at his mastery of Eastern reed instruments in his one-on-one with violinist Billy Bang, in what proved to be Bang’s swan song. He quickly followed that up with another live performance, this one being the seventh album of his long-running Untempered Ensemble project. This one, with no actual title, documents a live performance of three Cole songs at the Black Box Theater of Syracuse University. The current lineup consisting of Cole, fellow original member Warren Smith (percussion, glockenspiel), Joe Daley (euphonium, tuba), son Atticus Cole (hand drums, percussion), Shayna Dulberger (acoustic bass) and Ras Moshe (tenor sax) was supplemented by Cole’s daughter Althea SullyCole when the festival organizer asked for a vocalist to be included in their performance.
UNTEMPERED ENSEMBLE -- In my view, adding a vocalist to avant garde jazz is a tricky proposition; it’s often hard to match the voice to the root and blend in naturally with the instruments. But I found no such problems with Althea; she knew just when to come in at the right spots and her vocal style was right for the music. It was also easy to find that elusive root thanks to the tremendous job by Dulberger, who plays the bass with precision and clear tone worthy of her esteemed predecessor in the group, William Parker.
Dulberger’s crucial work frees everyone else up, and the unusual timbres created be these odd collection of instruments forms the basis of the Untempered Ensemble’s unique sonic print. This music isn’t necessarily whack jazz because there is dissonance everywhere—there isn’t—it’s progressive because of these exotic mixture of sounds (“A Man Of Outstanding Quality Is Preeminent Among His Comrades” has a very well defined repeating figure). It even swings, as on “Poverty Is The Father Of Fear.” Smith and Atticus form a formidable percussion team, combining for rhythms that’s loose and rooted in African forms, and take its rightful position alongside and not behind the horn players.
Well recorded and mastered by Chuck Eller, this performance by the Untempered Ensemble at the Vision Festival continues a tradition started nearly twenty years ago by Cole, putting together performers both young and old, established and up-and-coming, to forge music representing Bill Cole’s singular vision of Eastern and African enhanced jazz.
Billy Bang/Bill Cole -- Two giants of music, two master improvisers, Bill Cole and Billy Bang, perform on stage a lively dialogue that’s very difficult to duplicate. In April of 2009 at the University of Virginia Chapel, in Charlottesville, Virginia, those lucky enough to enjoy their performance had much to gain from the synthesis of these two unique master craftsmen. Billy Bang, one of the more significant violinists of the northern musical world, who has worked with sacred figures of jazz (among others, James Emery, Sun Ra, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Laswell, Don Cherry, Marilyn Crispell, Ronald Shannon Jackson, James “Blood” Ulmer) and the very exceptional wind instrument player Bill Cole (who has worked with William Parker, Sam Rivers, Warren Smith and others) formulated creative ideas, with authenticity, feeling, passion and inspiration, and by working together applied their precise talent to serve a pioneering and fascinating music. Their excellent organized dialogues (violin from Billy Bang and various traditional wind instruments like digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute, shenai from Bill Cole) attain unique dimensions and become a vehicle for an adventurous journey to the impenetrable soul. Without a doubt, this is one of the top combinations of Eastern and Western sound from two leading improvisers whose performance resulted in giving explosive dimensions to the audience – one genuine and substantial revelation of inner depth that can without geographic limits travel to the musical universe. Further, through the CD we become witness to all that were a part of it and understand the enthusiasm of the public that idolized with loud applause the six exciting actions of this leading duo.
The digeridoo and double reeds are not jazz instruments, and the violin is at the edge of jazz. But violinist Billy Bang and Asian double reed master Bill Cole have combined their oddly textured instruments into an interesting blend of avant-garde colors. The disc, recorded live at the University of Virginia Chapel, is haunting at times, and the echo-filled chapel a perfect setting for unencumbered music. Much of the disc is improvised, with the two guiding each other in various directions, all of them outside the musical norm. Some are sparse and spacious, like "Shades of Kia Mia," while others are thick and reedy, as on the flurry called "Poverty is the Father of Fear." This music is probably more interesting
live. This isn't an easy listen, but it is unique.
Bill Cole and Billy Bang – LIVE AT UVA: It’s too bad that the sonic gems these two Bills create together aren’t available somewhere on the web (if YOU have links to any samples of the trax, please let me know right away). With that out of the way, I will simply say that the 6 long improvisations are gems from modern improvising masters. I especially enjoyed Bill Cole’s penetrating performance on the opener, “Digeridoo and Violin Improvisation”… what’s most unique about both of these players is the pace… there is nothing rushed in their playing, and you know from that – they have nothing to prove to anyone – they’ve GOT IT & they KNOW IT (without having to say so). This is a great CD for folks new to improvisation, as well as veteran listeners, but it will require your total & undivided attention and focus. I give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Among the more daring moments in music is one of the last adventures that violinist Billy Bang shared with double reeds player, the venerable Bill Cole. The intense encounter took place on April 17, 2009 and was captured by Cole who released it on his own label in the winter of 2010. A collection of intriguing compositions by both Cole and Bang, as well as tumultuous improvisations that emerged from the depths of each man's soul, this album will remain one of the most mystical confluences in music to be captured on record. Both men have an equal share in making this set of music noteworthy. Bang, who was at the height of his powers inhabits a world of mystery and otherworldly majesty, bows his violin with wild intensity and abandon. He traverses a musical topography that few musicians and even fewer violinists did, is articulate while creating a musical language all his own. Cole is no less exquisite performing on a collection of Asian double reeds and one mighty one from Australia. On each instrument he invents a singular improvisatory language that he and Bang write into the literature of modern music.
While the improvisations soar into the blue beyond, and swoop in and out of the depths of the soul, they have an imaginary architecture that towers as if out of a bottomless pit where their foundations lie. All of them are untitled as they should be. The first is built around the ruminations of Cole's didgeridoo. Swirling around this superstructure is Bang's violin. The master instrumentalist weaves and ducks, wails and screams as he embellishes the music that sweeps across a musical terrain that is both mysterious and wonderful. The second improvisation centers around a dialog between Cole's shyly skittering flute and Bang's violin that has seemingly come adrift on a distant planet and is making its way into a deeper realm out in space. The third improvisation features a duet between the violin and the Northern Indian shenai. Here Bang's seemingly uncontrollable wanderings are matched in equal measure by Cole's as he flies high and mighty on the shenai.
Of the compositions, "Shades of Kia Mia" by Billy Bang is sublime and a visionary excursion that seems to be a resurrection of an experience shared with an expedition in Vietnam, with its howling, wind-like bowing and conjuring up of the heat and fire of a violent breath. Billy Bang quotes majestically from "Take the A-Train" and Sun-Ra's magnum opus, "Space is the Place" in his interplanetary adventure, "Jupiter's Future." While it is the philosophical ruminations of Cole's "Poverty is the Father of Fear" that creates perhaps the most tender and thoughtful moments as the instrumentalists swagger and swerve, dance and sing as they negotiate Cole's brooding opus. The otherworldly charm of the album makes it all the more enduring.
Review: Billy Bang and Bill Cole - Billy Bang/Bill Cole
Billy Bang/Bill Cole – Billy Bang/Bill Cole: This live performance from 2009 recalls the Wadada Leo Smith/Ed Blackwell performance released last year as The Blue Mountain’s Sun Drummer, because it’s a duet of avant garde jazz masters performed at a college auditorium. The Smith/Blackwell remains the better performance overall in my opinion, but the Bang/Cole record has the upper hand in terms of variance and unpredictability. This is due partly to half of the six performances being improvised on the spot by the two and Cole swapping out one exotic wind instrument for another for nearly every song. Billy Bang, on the other hand, sticks with his trusty violin throughout. For the first improvisation, Cole plays an Australian didgeridoo, and the drone pipe creates a ghostly buzz; Bang manages to locate where Cole was going with the song and improvises effectively around it. “Shades Of Kia Mia” is lifted from Bang’s Vietnam and features him more prominently, but Cole’s nagaswarm provides a intensely reedy tone played unhurriedly, countering and combining with Bang’s more urgent lines. For Cole’s “Poverty Is The Father of Fear,” Cole uses a suona, which emits a high-pitched reedy noise that he blends in with Bang’s violin to create a tribal sound. “Jupiter’s Future” stands out in this set for its well-defined theme and Bang inserting quotes from familiar songs (“Take The A Train,” “I’ve Got Rhythm”) throughout a mostly dissonant solo stretch. The meeting of these two whack jazz masters holding little back is a real treat for fans of both of them.
Recorded live at the University of Virginia Chapel in April of 2009 and featuring Billy Bang on violin and Bill Cole on shenai, nagaswarm, flute, digeridoo, and sona. William Parker calls Bill Cole "the number one master double reed player on the planet" and the proof is in the pudding. For this superb duo effort Mr. Cole plays three double reeds, the shenai, the nagaswarm and the sona (or suona, a Chinese wind instrument) as well as flute and digeridoo. Another master musician is the ever-amazing Billy Bang who is fine form here. Together, they make a perfect pair of heavy spirits. Bill Cole, who has some half dozen previous discs on the Boxholder label, always evokes a more spiritual side with his music. His music often deals with a cosmic drone which that is ethereal or hypnotic. Choosing to collaborate with Billy Bang is a wonderful idea since both musicians deal with sympathetic vibrations. The opening piece, "Improvisation" features the low-end hums of digeridoo and careful acoustic violin. For the "Shades of Kia Mia", the nagaswarm and violin are especially well-matched since they cover a similar solemn terrain. The nagaswarm is a rare Indian instrument that I've only heard Charlie Mariano playing in the past. It sounds like an animal singing sadly to itself. Billy Bang takes a powerful unaccompanied violin solo midway before Mr. Cole lets loose his own poignant solo. On "Poverty is the Father of Fear", the violin and sona play the twisted melody together bending their tones around one another in a most intense and enchanting way. Even when Mr. Cole calms down and switches to flute, the duo find a way of blending their notes into a special organic tapestry together. Perhaps the best and certainly the most revelatory duo is the shenai & violin, which seem to connect on a variety of levels. Billy Bang reaches deep into his history and quotes lines from "Space is the Place", "Take the A Train" and "Jeepers Creepers" while Bill Cole twists his notes inside-out and also quotes a few familiar melodies. Bang-Cole are a most extraordinary duo to be reckoned with. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
The new Billy Bang Bill Cole album makes a good segue with Dollshot, just reviewed here. Recorded live in concert at the University of Virginia in 2009, it’s a series of duo pieces and improvisations between the iconic jazz violinist and the pioneering reedman. It’s not the most accessible album ever made – it’s intense, sometimes apprehensive, even abrasive – but for fans of a good jam, it’s pure bliss.
The concert kicks off with an improvisation, a study in low/high contrasts: Cole holds down a drone with his digeridoo while Bang moves slowly, judiciously and hauntingly against the murky wash of sound. Eventually, overtones begin to waft up from the depths, violin swooping warily, Cole eventually taking it down as low as he can. The audience is stunned. The next tune, Shades of the Kia Mia, is a variation on an earlier Bang composition from his acclaimed Vietnam: The Aftermath album. Playing the midrange Indian nagaswarm flute, Cole rises and falls like a siren underneath Bang’s Asian-tinged blues phrases. The violin crescendos to a brief explosion of white noise, then circles down nimbly; the duo wrap it up slowly with a long series of morose, conversational phrases. It packs a punch.
Cole plays supersonically wild, Balkan-tinged doublestops on sona on his composition Poverty is the Father of Fear, a vivid portrayal that moves quickly from a surprisingly triumphant march figure to a crazed sense of desperation, the musicians exchanging roles, by turns calmly rhythmic and completely unhinged. They follow Cole’s pyrotechnics with a repetitive violin hook, a trick ending and a graceful wind down to where the piece began. The next improvisation starts as a ghostly march; Bang holds down the rhythm while Cole runs a circular phrase on his flute and then hopscotches over Bang’s long, sustained pedal note.
Jupiter’s Future, another Bang composition, is a thinly disguised funk song with tasty, bluesy violin and a blistering climb to the uppermost registers led by Cole that kicks off even more frenzied riffage. They close with a final, intense improvisation, Cole imploring, Bang refusing to let up. For anyone who likes powerful, adrenalizing music and isn’t scared off by a lot of upper midrange, this is a treat – you’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2011 list at year’s end.
Proverbs of Sam
Master of semi-exotic Eastern double-reed instruments, Bill Cole has spent most of his professional life as an academic. Criminally under-recorded, when Seasoning the Greens, a 2001 concert of his Untempered Ensemble was released in 2002, fans of freely improvised worldbeat jazz only had to wait one year. So the question raised by Proverbs of Sam is: what took so long? Featuring the three long improvisations that comprised the Ensemble's set at the Vision Festival in June of 2001 and a fourth track from the concert that gave us Seasoning the Greens, it is dedicated to the memory of the late Sam Furnace who passed away in 2003.
Where Greens offered a global tour of rhythms, Proverbs plays more like a Best of Sam Furnace, with the African-centric beats remaining fairly consistent while Furnace's solos jump from the speakers. In addition to his buzzing sona (China), shenai and nagaswaram (India), Cole blows Ghanaian flute and didgeridoo while Furnace is featured on alto and Joseph Daley patrols the bottom on baritone, trombone and tuba. From time to time the three hornmen clash as their lines overlap but their hyperactivity serves as counterpoint to the pulsating rocksteady rhythms of drummer Warren Smith and percussionist Atticus Cole. Bassist William Parker links both halves together and, as a fringe benefit, Cooper-Moore whacks his diddley bow. Proverbs for Sam is a fitting tribute and carries a spiritual weight not found in most run-of-the-mill world music projects.
Proverbs for Sam
Proverbs for Sam is dedicated to the late saxophonist Sam Furnace, a charter member of double reed master Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble. The majority of the album is culled from the 2001 Vision Festival in New York, while the majestic finale is drawn from the same 2001 Burlington, Vermont concert documented on Seasoning of the Greens (Boxholder Records, 2002). These live recordings feature some of Furnace's last performances with the Ensemble, who passed away in 2004.
Since the early nineties, Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble has straddled the tenuous line between East and West, its instrumentation and approach seamlessly combining multiple styles and genres. The Ensemble boasts an impressive rhythm section in percussionists Warren Smith and Atticus Cole, ubiquitous bassist William Parker and the mercurial multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore, who plays his usual assortment of home-made instruments, including the otherworldly diddly-bow. Cole, Joe Daley (baritone horn, tuba and trombone) and the late alto saxophonist/flutist Sam Furnace form a dynamic front line that can caterwaul and croon in equal measure.
An educator and author, Cole has explored the expressive capabilities of Asian double reed instruments in a jazz context for almost four decades. His virtuosity on digeridoo, Chinese sona, Ghanian flute, Indian shenai and nagaswarm infuses his writing and improvising with a pan-global authenticity that avoids dilettantish exoticism. While not a member, Cole continues the ancient to the future tradition espoused by the AACM, invoking the past while venturing forth into uncharted territory.
Titled after Yoruban proverbs, the four lengthy pieces that comprise the album each embody different aspects of rhythm, harmony and tonality with ample solo space for each member of the group. The opener builds from pneumatic horn charts and tribal polyrhythms into a collage of roiling percussion, sputtering brass and thorny reeds.
Tendrils of spectral melody drift along a languorous rubato pulse on the second tune, as distant vocal cries offer a ghostly meditation on the blues. The third introduces a loping beat drawn from the African Diaspora that fuels a riotous thicket of polyphony before climaxing in a blistering New Orleans-inspired Second Line run. The epic closer begins with a serene mosaic of ethereal flutes and scintillating accents before spiraling into a fervent, collective miasma.
A bracing merger of East-West traditions recorded in the presence of an appreciative audience, Proverbs for Sam is a vibrant investigation of pan-global musical possibilities and a celebratory ode to a beloved artist.
Hojok, Nagaswarm, Sona, Digeridoo
One of Bill Cole’s calling cards is his ability to play free jazz on a seemingly endless number of nonwestern instruments: the digeridoo, the Korean hojok, the Indian nagaswarm. Cole is hardly the first free jazz musician to turn his attention to nonwestern traditional music: to varying degrees, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders all took cues from outside the west, and many of the most important features of jazz can be traced back to Africa. But few improvisers make their nonwestern influences as explicit as Cole does.
It makes sense that improvisers like Cole would look to India, for example, for inspiration. I’m trying to avoid lumping together all music indigenous to the Far East, the Middle East, India and Africa, but in this case, it almost makes sense; not because those types of music are really all that similar, but because both free jazz and the types of nonwestern music listed share many of the same dissimilarities with regard to music idigenous to the West. Both contain plenty of improvisation, feature complex and ever-changing beat patterns, and strive for transcendence in a way that long ago became unpopular in most genres of Western music.
But Seasoning The Greens is successful not only because free jazz and many types of nonwestern music share characteristics, but also because Cole knows how to add up their differences in a natural way. Seasoning The Greens is essentially a jazz record, and an extroverted one at that, with unhinged solos and swinging grooves cropping up everywhere. But the nonwestern elements – the exotic instruments, the ceremonial rhythms after which many of the tracks are named – aren’t just window dressing. On “South Indian Festival Rhythm,” for example, Cole’s solo on the Indian shenai (a double reed instrument that sounds like an oboe) is as free as you please. But many of the contents of his improvisation, like his style of circling around a drone, or his use of busy, slurred lines to ornament a single important note, demonstrate that Cole isn’t using South Indian music casually.
The rest of the musicians on Seasoning The Greens all stick to more familiar instruments, except for Cooper-Moore, who plays a variety of homemade noisemakers. But their contributions are very much in the spirit of the project. Percussionists Warren Smith and Atticus Cole, especially, deserve credit for playing convincingly on beats from all around the world, and saxophonist Sam Furnace plays so sensitively that it’s often hard to distinguish his alto from whatever nonwestern instrument Cole is playing. Seasoning The Greens is a winner from start to finish – Cole is backed by an enthusiastic and empathic band, and his understanding of the nonwestern music that inspired this project pushes it just to the left of any other free jazz you’ve heard.
A worth while listen for the geographically curious jazzer.
Fusing jazz and world music is a tricky process; the results can either be a compromise situation where the noblest intentions can produce some of the lamest music imaginable, or (as in Don Cherry's case), a whole new world of possibilities. Similarly the adoption of non Western instrumentation into jazz can come across as either grafted on exotica or a launchpad for new discovery...cue Bill Cole.
Cole's in the unusual position of being both a jazz historian (he has written biographies of both John Coltrane and Miles Davis) and a player of non Western reed and wind instruments of some 40 years experience. His Untempered Ensemble is aptly named, given their gift for producing those notes that fall in the cracks between the piano keys. Comprised of some of New York's finest avant jazzers, they pull off the difficult task of showing respect for global traditions while simultaneously shoving two fingers up at any notions of cultural segregation or imperialism.
Seasoning the Greens has evolved since its inception in 1994from an improvised piece to a suite that globetrots its way through rhythmic figures from Korea to Colombia via Ghana and South India.Similarly the instrumentation is pretty pan cultural, from Cole's collection of winds (didgeridoo, shenai and nagaswarm) to Cooper-Moore's collection of homemade instruments from flute to hoe-handle harp. Sam Furnace adds gutsy, blurry alto, Joe Daley on tuba and the ubiquitous William Parker hold down the bottom endduties and Warren Smith and Atticus Cole provide percussive propulsion. Together these players have a breadth of experience that ranges from Anthony Braxton to Gil Evans to Art Blakey; impressive credentials indeed.
The suite opens with a whirling drone of didgeridoo and bowed harmonics before settling into Smith's "Triple Towers of Kyongbokkang", whose stately melody sits over gently insistent rhythm patterns. Cole's shenai is often the dominant voice, recalling the kind of melismatic ecstacies Pharoah Sanders' soprano generated in the later Coltrane lineups, while Furnace and Daley riff behind him. The rhythm section groove mightily; Parker can light a fire underneath pretty much any band and his solidity is typically elemental here.
This is often joyful music; Cooper-Moore's lovely penny whistle figures give "South Indian Marriage Rhythm" an irresistible kwela lilt, while "Colombian Rhythm" provokes Cole into a monstrous solo, followed by an extended percussion improv.
"Free Rhythm" takes things down a peg with Cooper-Moore's harp offering swooningly lovelykora like plucks and koto bends, joined eventually by Parker's rich bass meanderings. The suite ends with a downhome 'n' dirty blues; Furnace digs in deep on alto before the whole thing morphs into a furious bout of collective soloing; when Coles's shenai blasts in, it's as if the Ganges is flowing into the Hudson.A worthwhilelisten for the geographically curious jazzer.
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Seasoning the Greens
Jazz fans may be less prone to musical ethnocentricities and preconceived ideas about song than, say, those folks who go out and buy Madonna CDs, but that restrictive mindset lingers.
Bill Cole is out to shake things up a bit. Cole has been studying and playing a number of eastern double reed instruments for over forty years, and what he is offering up on his Seasoning of the Greens is something of a sonic world tour, with a solid grounding in American jazz. You'll hear the didgeridoo (Australia), the sona (China), hojok (Korea), the shenai and nagaswarm (India), combined with an array of handmade instruments played by his band mate Cooper-Moore.
The eastern sound, to the uninitiated ear, can sound a bit monotonous, drone-like in its approach. Cole and his Untempered Ensemble have solved that sticking point by adding American sounds: baritone horn and tuba, accoustic bass, alto sax, trap drums, and congas and bongos. The suite—in nine parts, played continuously—may sound a bit odd at first, on "Groundings", a low moan, a rather featureless insectile hum; but that's the ethnocentricities suffacing. Give it a minute. Things gel. "The Triple Towers of Kyongbokkang" (Korea) has a lovely, solid melody; and "South Indian Festival Rhythm"—to lapse into the jazz vernacular—just plain cooks.
The baritone horn's rich, mellow tone is a nice touch in these proceedings, giving the high end Eastern instruments a solid Western grounding.
The closer, "A Man Sees a Snake, a Woman Kills It; No Matter, as Long as It is Dead" (from a Nigerian proverb) is a rollicking twelve minute closer, Eastern instruments screaming over a Western gutbucket blues, a loose, rapturous New Orleans dixieland cacophony.
An education for the ear, an essential disc for listeners with geographical aspirations or interests in a different musical palette.
Live in Greenfield, Massachusets November 20, 1999
It takes a while to get a grip on a recording like this. After having spent such “a while” absorbing this sprawling 2CD set, I’m willing to claim that this is one of the most important documents of Jazz in the past ten years. It represents a virtuosic synthesis of composition and improvisation, and of conventional and unconventional timbres. Each of the participants is a seasoned improviser comfortable with a range of Jazz aesthetics, from the accessible to the abstract. The leader of this ensemble, Bill Cole, plays a large number of wind instruments from various traditions outside Jazz, including some fantastic reed instruments from Korea and India. Additionally, Cooper-Moore performs on a number of self-invented instruments that have rich voices, transcending the novelty trap that instrument invention is prone to fall into. The sort of timbral expansion within a post-Free Jazz aesthetic that is achieved here is simply a rare and wonderful thing. Cole takes solo after solo that allows a lifetime of immersion in Jazz to reveal itself through the extraordinary timbral resources of his chosen instruments. It has been widely observed that the vitality of current improvised music stems largely from players who are discovering new timbral and tonal possibilities on familiar instruments, from Evan Parker’s saxophone to Mat Maneri’s violin. Bill Cole’s playing takes this one step further by tapping into the possibilities offered by less familiar instruments, and the result is a paradise of microtonal delights. There aren’t too many recent examples that share this methodology, although the innovative work by The Far East Side Band is probably the most obvious one, and both projects have featured the accomplished tuba playing of Joseph Daley, although Daley’s role in Cole’s ensemble is not quite as prominent as it is in his work with Hwang, et al. This music also sits comfortably next to Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures and related projects, though Cole’s group is a bit more Free Jazz-oriented. Additionally, Korean Komungo player Jin Hi Kim and double-reed specialist Joseph Celli have an impressive body of work between them, especially the Jin Hi Kim-composed double-reed blowout “Piri Quartet” from 1995’s diverse Living Tones (OODiscs). Other excellent examples of non-Western instruments being used in a Western aesthetic context include Warren Sender’s mind-blowing Antigravity ensemble, and the Northwoods Improvisers, although the latter’s records are not nearly as adventurous as the above examples.
The first piece on this set, “Struggles of Fanny Lou Hamer”, was revelatory in its first hearing. We find passages of circular breathing that go outside of a rhythmic framework, but have a structure based on an unforced flow from one phrase to the next, as opposed to a drone structure. We also hear multiple microtonal lines playing off each other without an underlying pulse, achieving results that might make more than a few composers of “contemporary classical music” quite jealous. After about 15 minutes without a drum kit, a section of confident post-Ornette Jazz comes through sounding as clear as a church bell. The remainder of the set is just as compelling. There is an astounding variety of aesthetics at play throughout, from “sound-based” to “melody-based” to “rhythm-based”, and even “harmony-based”, all sitting happily side-by-side. In this connection, it’s worth explicitly stating that this group can swing and groove in a pretty serious way at times. All the music is highly sectional, reflecting a great deal of compositional deliberation, and there are numerous solo and duo passages that give us a chance to hear the nuances of some of the unfamiliar instruments, or simply focus in on the familiar genius of William Parker. Additionally, there are passages of ensemble interaction that achieve the uplifting quality of great Free Jazz, where all the players form an emotionally meaningful whole and you can feel your spirit floating up into the air with the reed notes.
Disc 2 contains the 48 minute “Freedom 1863: A Fable”, which is broken up into 12 relatively short sections, all of which are substantially different from each other. Cole’s first solo section finds him reaching for the heights with a skittering, dancing, and ecstatic reed exploration. There are several moments, especially in “Introduction” and “Martin Luther King, Jr”, where the drums really come through with a detailed, clean, and powerful sound. In fact, the recording quality overall is top-notch.
There are moments when the piece fails to maintain a meaningful sense of continuity, such as the lackluster percussion duet in “Marcus Garvey”, which suddenly stops and is replaced by a seemingly unrelated (but quite beautiful) solo by Cooper-Moore on his Horizontal Hoe-Handle Harp. In general, though, the individual sections carry their own weight and the transitions are frequently smooth. The final section is especially effective, using insistent repetition to achieve an energetic climax. An exciting and important document.
Bill Cole & The Untempered Ensemble
Duets And Solos, Volume 1
Bill Cole has been involved in NYC's free music scene for decades, although it's only been in the last few years that his name has become more widely known, through documentation on AUM Fidelity and Boxholder Records. His Untempered Ensemble first caught my ear on the CD culled from the 1997 Vision Festival, with its emphasis on "exotic" and homemade instrumentation. As anyone who's listened to one of Ellipsis Arts' compilation CDs can tell you, though, unusual instruments alone do not guarantee a worthwhile musical piece (put less politely: why would someone spend years creating something out of, say, goat dentures and woven nostril hair, just so that they could play insipid new age swill?); if the player doesn't have anything interesting to say, the music will fail to transcend novelty. Bill Cole—and his partners—do not fall into this lot. Whether he's sounding like Dewey Redman's unhinged twin alongside veteran Warren Smith's trap set, or taking the background drone role on the digeridoo to accompany Cooper-Moore's "horizontal hoe-handle harp", the results are never less than engaging on a level above their preternatural sonics. Special attention must be paid to William Parker, who, in the spirit of the band, transforms his bass on "The Dove finds everywhere comfortable" to match Cole's soprano-range piri: Parker unleashes a steady stream of arco flurries, and by the end of the piece, you've forgotten that you've been listening to a conventional bass. Cheers to Boxholder for making this album available.