Liner notes lauding the artistic courage of creative musicians who follow their instincts and push the envelope is a pretty good sign that Altered Spaces will focus on the impressionistic side of Reggie Workman's music. And that's true, because this is very much in the chamber jazz zone, closer to the European avant-classical wing than any rhythm-driven freedom pulse variant. The all-star lineup doesn't even offer the recourse to a familiar horn presence, since the front line (loosely speaking) consists of Jason Hwang's violin and a young Don Byron intent on playing high-pitched scalar swirls, almost masking any body in his clarinet tone to blend with Hwang. A drum flurry and spare bass theme with chordal strums that recalls Charlie Haden opens "Apart (revisited)" before abstract open spaces unfold into solos by Hwang, the leader (heavy on the vibrato), Marilyn Crispell (working her Cecil Taylor-clusters side), and Gerry Hemingway. The melody's closest parallel would be the group pieces on John McLaughlin's My Goal's Beyond (ditto for the main theme of "Ten"), but less riff-oriented and with group sections bridging the solos. "Ballad for the Silf" is basically a Hwang/arco Workman duet and the bass man keeps bowing when Jeanne Lee enters with mournful melisma on the title track. She's got operatic flow here and Workman seems to be very focused on having the musicians work up in the high register. The middle is largely deserted (as it often is here) before filling up with discords with drum punctuation, Byron's high squeaks with flurries, and Crispell clusters. All the tones kinda blend together, so it's hard to determine who's playing what -- and it's not the only time that happens. "Suite Pour le Courage" is built around glissandos with Hwang prominent and Lee's anti-war poetics; she moans, Hemingway brings the war drum home, Crispell circles, Workman bows, and the music disappears and reappears, flurries, and subsides behind the vocalist. "Wha's Nine" is a brief coda featuring Lee and the closest thing to a regular ensemble backing you'll find here; the music is more suite-like, with different instrument combinations entering to make statements and then exiting.
It's challenging stuff with lovely moments, for sure, and probably made for an absorbing ride in concert, but as a pure listening experience, the ebb and flow is a bit too dry and severe to fully make the transition to disc. Altered Spaces is fine for advanced Reggie Workman fans, but tough for beginners who can find more accessible discs for an introduction to his music as a leader.