Pretty good idea to rotate guest saxophonists as a means to keep James Blood Ulmer's Music Revelation Ensemble concept fresh. Pharoah Sanders and John Zorn are on board for Cross Fire, and a change to Calvin "Fuzz" Jones' acoustic bass lowers the frenzy level that marked Knights of Power. Sanders, in particular, sounds inspired by the context, playing hard and pushing Ulmer and the music. His tracks all start out peaceful, go totally outside with high harmonic shrieks and thick, woolly tenor tone, and then bring it back to the serenity base. He plays some kind of flute over Jones' arco bass on the atmospheric "Suspect," before Cornell Rochester's drums (a driving, active force throughout) gradually push things out. Some lingering echoes of Sonny Sharrock's Ask the Ages disc mark the Sanders tracks -- it is the exact same lineup after all, led by another guitar improviser with some kind of space-bluesman-kinship-connection to Jimi Hendrix -- that becomes explicit on "Sweet." And damn, "My Prayer" finds Sanders playing over segments with an outright country & western groove (yes, you read that right) before it turns sideways and abstract with a spare Ulmer solo for effective contrast. Zorn is subdued at first -- he's the weak link on the opening "Law," not connecting with the blues dirge-feel created by Jones' bass drag anchor with octave drops and a solid Ulmersolo. But he hits his stride on "Proof," his sonic sax effects playing dodge 'em games with Ulmer's guitar around a very pretty, classic Ulmer theme over a slow, descending bassline -- later he comes vomiting back in to spew forth guttural commentary, whoops, and slides near the end of a great track. His playing even picks up on the peace and serenity vibe for the nice closer "Backbeat." Music Revelation Ensemble seems to be the context that Blood Ulmer reserves his strongest melodies for, and he plays with the kind of fire and invention that made him a major figure. Cross Fire probably isn't the best place to plunge in and explore the music, but it's a very worthy addition to the catalog.
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AllMusic Review by Don Snowden