Harrison Bankhead

Morning Sun Harvest Moon

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Punk, metal, hardcore, and hip-hop aren't the only places where one finds musicians who are blatantly, defiantly in-your-face; there are also plenty of them in avant-garde jazz. In fact, some of the more extreme free jazz (as in Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Charles Gayle, post-1964 John Coltrane, early Gato Barbieri) is among the most viciously intense music ever recorded. But avant-garde jazz hasn't always favored a scorched-earth policy; since the mid-'60s, the explorers of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) have been embracing a kinder, gentler, more reflective approach to outside playing that uses space extensively and doesn't clobber the listener with scorching density. Bassist Harrison Bankhead knows all about that AACM aesthetic; he has been a sideman for Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams, two of the AACM's most important figures. And there is no shortage of AACM influence on Morning Sun Harvest Moon, Bankhead's first album as a leader. But here's the thing that separates this 2010 recording from a lot of AACM-minded efforts: Bankhead and the other members of his cohesive acoustic sextet (reedmen Ed Wilkerson and Mars Williams, violinist James Sanders, drummer Avreeayl Ra, and percussionist Ernie Adams) occasionally detour into the sort of dense, clobbering, screaming free jazz that the AACM was a departure from. It doesn't happen all that often, but it happens often enough to remind listeners of the contrast between the firebrands of free jazz and the more nuanced and contemplative Mitchell/Abrams/Anthony Braxton/Joseph Jarman outlook of the AACM. Another thing that occasionally happens on Morning Sun Harvest Moon is a detour into a post-bop melody; the Latin-flavored "Chicago Señorita" is easily the disc's most straight-ahead offering. But more often than not, this fine album is unapologetically avant-garde. It's great to see Bankhead finally getting a chance to record as a leader.

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