Michael Mason

Angels of Fire

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A survivor of the Our Lady of Angels school fire in Chicago on Dec. 1, 1958 in which 92 children and three nuns perished and another 100 persons were injured, Mason, on this, his fourth session as a leader, dedicates music to those lost souls and people associated with the tragedy. This cathartic music stems from various areas: improvised jazz, folk, and ethnic themes or rhythms, and desperate, hopeful and sorrowful emotions. Mason's flute work has a dour quality; it is not at all bright or pretty, but rather lurks under a pure tonal center, and this is perhaps the intent, to illustrate the circumstances of this unfortunate event by remembering it in remorse-riddled timbres. Mason also plays electric keyboards in one-minute prelude setups for four of the pieces. The procession-like "A Touch of Rain" segues to "Courage of the Heart" as a soured flute and Ernest Dawkins' much more tonally in-synch alto sax lead the way. "Kingdom Come" is awash in Eno-type ambiance, leading to spirit dances "The Light, the Heat" and "Firefight," the latter piece with Scott Ashley's electric guitar evoking Irish jig or reel inferences. A spacy "Deep Atmosphere" is a prelude for the 5/4 unison dance between Mason's flute and Steve Berry's trombone during "Youth of a New Day." A swelling synth "Fire Dance" introduces the standout track "Brotherhood," replete with Scottish uilleann bagpipe drones from Sean Ryan which buoy a 5/4 to 6/8 dancing framework. In this composition, Mason's flute is more in tune and hopeful. The rest of the pieces stand alone. "Flame Front" is a 12/8 flute-trombone workout jam; "The Healing" is a ballad which finds Mason and guitarist Ashley in a reflective mood; and the seemingly highlife-influenced title cut and tranquil, optimistic finale "Children's Song" note vegetation and signs of new life growing from where the ashes lay some 40 years ago. An admitted primitivist, Mason's highly personalized music has raw edges. This was an important project to him, and to others who experienced the repercussions of the second most significant Chicago fire to date.

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