Various Artists

Black Saint/Soul Note: Critic's Pick Sampler, Vol. 2

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The Black Saint and Soul Note labels further stake their claim on the exploratory side of jazz with an anthology of their releases partially determined through a critics' poll. The opening track is "Dolphy's Dance" by Charlie Haden/Paul Motian/Geri Allen. While Ms. Allen may be last in the personnel listing, she is first in this playful romp of her piano encountering the veteran rhythm section. Dave Douglas' "Parallel Worlds" offers a neo-classical/jazz union, thanks to Douglas' trumpet supporting the adventurous violin (Mark Feldman) and cello (Erik Friedlander). You are instantly brought into a hushed cocktail lounge with the understated piano of "Sightsong" (Muhal Richard Abrams/Malachi Favors on bass, whose vocabulary amplification adds sufficient depth and expression). The Don Pullen Quintet is represented by "The Sixth Sense." Theirs adds a very classic jazz feel to the work, featuring the interpretive trumpet of Olu Dara, followed by the smooth and melodic alto sax of Donald Harrison before Pullen masters the piece with myriad fingers on the piano, and the horns return in unison for a conclusion. The most challenging and polyrhythmic episode occurs during "Enter From the East" by the John Carter Octet. Carter must have picked up alien jazz lessons while on Mars. The piece begins and resolves serenely enough. This segues nicely into the somewhat cosmic and also clarinet-led "River Niger" by Hamiet Bluiett. Bluiett used, count 'em, ten clarinets from the E flat soprano onto the double B contrabass. The last half of the song is totally taken over by the capable drumming of Ronnie Burrage on this live recording. "I Do Not Believe" by the Steve Lacy Octet features the slow introduction of three expressive saxophonists (Lacy on soprano, Steve Potts on soprano and alto, Ricky Ford on tenor) with the ornamenting touches of Bobby Few's piano. Ford is left controlling the piece. However, Irene Aebi's contralto vocals seem out of place introducing and closing the trebly melodies. The interplay between David Murray's saxophone and Richard Davis' bowed bass on "The Hill" (David Murray Trio) is fascinating. Circling, they ascend to a pinnacle. On Julius Hemphill's "G Song," you are treated to Hemphill's saxophones backed by Abdul Wadud's cello. What really strikes, though, is the way percussionist Don Moye brings his rhythms from excitement down to weeping in the space of one song. Finishing off the anthology is a return of Hemphill, now definitely taking the center stage in his flock of saxophones, the Julius Hemphill Sextet.