Faruq Z. Bey

Journey into the Valley

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The fourth recording for visionary creative saxophonist Faruq Z. Bey teamed with the Northwoods Improvisers is a live concert recording done at Delta College in Michigan. This expanded version of the group as a sextet is making original and unique music within the improvised modern post-bop framework, while echoing the influences of Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Bey's famed Detroit band of the '80s, Griot Galaxy. A three-horn front line with Bey, Mike Carey, and Skeeter Shelton fortifies a hundredfold the concept of a call-and-response outline, while vibraphonist Mike Gilmore, bassist Mike Johnston, and drummer Nick Ashton add a world or ethnic element with a jazz foundation that swings things along firmly. There are two selections that combine compositions. One is "Family Folk Song/Moors," with Gilmore's marimba minimalism in 7/8 time as a springboard for the saxes and Carey's flute to scoot around. It's followed by a gong/cymbal sequence, a fine tenor solo by Bey, unison horns with a mournful cry, a 5/4 modality, signature brittle lines, and counterpoint that all recall the resonance of the Sun Ra Arkestra. "Fosters/Blue Monk" is a quite successful attempt to fuse and transpose the famous disoriented drunken blues written by Bey for Griot Galaxy into the famous exuberant Thelonious Monk evergreen. "Zychron" is another Griot Galaxy revisit, another Ra-like piece in a steady Egyptian five-beat strut kicked up to hard bop pace, with Shelton's edgy soprano leading the horn front line. "Sherrif Sam" exudes the passion and joie de vivre of the South African expatriate band Brotherhood of Breath (Bey is also involved with the similar-sounding Odu Afrobeat Orchestra), with hard bop dynamism tempered by a bright, advanced, unstoppable elephant-like momentum where Carey and Shelton reveal themselves as quite formidable button-pushers for Bey. The band shows a distinct harmonious vibe for a group with such different musical backgrounds and environmental influences. The woodsy, muted, rural, and attractively exotic references of the mid-Michigan-based Improvisers mesh well with the rough-and-tumble reckless abandon of the raw Detroit saxophonists. All of their previous recordings are easily recommended, and this one is no less ranked. Bey is playing with an oxygen-breathing apparatus, which visually is a bit disarming, but clearly not deterred in creativity and spirit on this exceptional offering of modern music. [An accompanying DVD is included in this package with three different tracks, three poetry readings by Bey, interviews, and a slide show.]

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