Thursday, January 28, 2021

CD Review: The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound - Soundpath

The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound
(Clean Feed/Ars Nova Workshop)

Muhal Richard Abrams literally became the founding father of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a musical institution in Chicago that lives on even after the pianist/composer's death in 2017. The AACM might immediately evoke thoughts of abstract music or the blends of various artistic disciplines, but this album serves as a reminder that the AACM grew out of  rehearsals that Abrams hosted for his orchestra.

Soundpath was composed by Abrams on a commission by alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel, who leads the Philadelphia ensemble known as Warriors of the Wonderful Sound. With the composer conducting, the Warriors premiered it in 2012 in a performance where the piece lasted 90 minutes. This recording came together in 2018, with saxophonist Marty Ehrlich conducting the group. It lasts a "mere" 40 minutes, and reveals how Abrams' writing, even in his later years, still sounds unique and hard to summarize easily as it references various approaches to music.

Although "Soundpath" has composed passages, the music depends just as much - if not more - on its soloists to shape the sound of the piece. This version of Warriors of the Wonderful Sound includes 17 musicians and everyone gets a solo, many of them concise and direct. In an effort to make sure listeners pay close attention, each player's solo is designated by letters A through I under personnel listing, though that guide doesn't appear anywhere else on the disc or the package, leaving it unclear exactly where one section ends and another begins.

Among the highlights, pianist Tom Lawton does an admirable job of filling the seat of the composer, leading early on into an intriguing alto saxophone trio of Zankel, Ehrlich and Julian Pressley. The latter gets his solo later in the piece, with a mix of squeaks and reed biting that touches on AACM adventure. The opening ensemble passage begin with a fanfare that combines two harmonic directions and later they feature the horns creating harmonies that can't be found on the piano. The tempo moves from free to loosely rhythmic throughout the piece, climaxing with a drum solo by Chad Taylor.

Like much of Abrams' work, the music deepens with each listening and it certainly encourages repeated, close examinations. That says as much about Abrams as it does the whole ensemble, which in addition to the aforementioned players, includes: Robert Debillis (soprano and tenor saxophones); Hafez Modirzadeh (tenor saxophone); Mark Allen (baritone saxophone); Dave Ballou, Duane Eubanks, Josh Evans (trumpet); Graham Haynes (cornet); Steve Swell, Michael Dessen, Alfred Patterson (trombone); Jose Davila (bass trombone); and Michael Formanek (bass). 

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