An Electric Soundpainting Septet

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Billed as an electric sound-painting septet, Mysterium are a group of young musicians from New York City who embrace progressive jazz fusion and alternative, somewhat punk rock sensibilities. They've adopted the techniques of sound-painting pioneer Walter Thompson, using a conductor -- in this case Evan Mazunik -- employing certain cues and operative sign language to make music that embraces both improvisation and thematic motifs. While very much youth-oriented and edgy, Mysterium are forceful and direct in their stance, industrial and somewhat futuristic, holding steadfast to the mean-street, big-city sound of busy metropolitan life. A principal member in terms of the overall sound of the group is trombonist Sam Kulik, while alto saxophonist Jeremy Danneman and tenor saxophonist Lorenzo Sanguedolce are secondary in most instances. Electric bass guitarist James Ilgenfritz, electric guitarist Adam Caine, and drummer/leader Eric John Eigner surround the ensemble with a buzz and kinetic rhythmic force that are driving, while on occasion frenetic. As spontaneous compositions, a track like the dense free rock of "Paddy Whack" certainly lives up to its title, while "Harlequin" is loose and dislodged and "Damsel" is churning and solemn, adding to the stark imagery the band is attempting to portray, and succeeds with on many levels. The Eric Dolphy-like alto sax Danneman wields on "1,000 Little Mutinies" perfectly contrasts with a militaristic march theme, and "Tired Ol' Sisyphus" is established as a sustained and steady distended reggae. The tromping beats and silent passages of "Hocus Pocus" and the energetic, steaming hot beat with squawky horns during "Presto Chango" both seem to imply some sort of magic gone awry, as heavy bass from Ilgenfritz and an angular sax counterpoint break up the spell on the latter cut. Everyone will delight in the humor of "Wile E. Coyote," a musical portrait of the Road Runner cartoon character perfectly rendered in smeary, confused, and plotted-out trombone-based swing continually stopped and started -- it's absolutely hilarious. The group also pays tribute to the sly and obfuscated music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk in its mutated epilogue piece, "The Eulipion Dance of the 5,000 Pound Man," with more march rhythms juxtaposed against lyrical sax lines and a thorny, primal guitar à la John Scofield. Mysterium certain proffer up a unique concept and individualistic sound that are probably best heard live, where you can see the ringmaster putting this band through its paces. They are far from a three-ring circus, but retain an elusive and unpredictable quality that makes you always want to hear much more of what they are capable of.

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