Christopher Cauley


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Alto saxophonist Christopher Cauley's debut recording as a leader carries with it all of the weight of a major talent announcing its "coming out" into a room full of aggressive challengers. To accomplish this, he has enlisted the assistance of a veritable tank of a rhythm section in drummer Gregg Bendian and bassist William Parker, and the occasional help of trombonist Steve Swell. Cauley's approach to improvising has been deeply inspired by the pioneering work of microtonal composer, saxophonist, and pianist Joe Maneri. Cauley uses the formalism of free jazz and the unifying concept of locking tonalities as the basis for his compositions. "My Bell," with its Cannonball Adderley cadences and Jackie McLean-like phrasing, uses hard bop as the base note for its investigations into upper and middle register tonalities, while swinging through near constant rhythmic changes put forth between by the dueling rhythm section. On "Arco Sketch," Parker's bowing creates a modal front piece of a tune whose intervals contrast with it sharply. Swell's trombone engages first with overtone phrases that hover above the arco chords which become harmonic resonators in the instrument's upper registers as Cauley enters with one, two, and three note clusters to center the seemingly fluid nature of Parker's investigation. Both saxophone and trombone focus on Parker as the sole melodic instrument in a free-floating vibrational space of half-parsed phrases, and longish angular lines of engagement. On "For Eva With Love and Squalor," spare, shimmering saxophone glissandi encounter a rhythm section hell bent on the blues. Cauley takes the challenges and plays all around the 12-bar structure, emitting a series of 16th notes to establish a top bar and Swell counters with flatted eights covering all the notes -- and tones -- between F and B flat. This is inventive ensemble playing that takes nothing for granted, either in composition, improvisation, or nuanced elocution. Cauley's debut weighs in with a wallop that reveals him as a solid challenge for all comers.

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