Empty Cage Quartet


  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

The Empty Cage Quartet views gravity in various means of suspension. As explained by trumpeter Kris Tiner in the liner notes, they favor gravity point open pitch palindromes, extended shapes, meta or sub-level variations, and numeric sequences, among at least a dozen other descriptors. At the bottom line, this highly improvised music has some definite structure, but is based more on cooperation and listening skills among the four players. Tiner and alto saxophonist Jason Mears work somewhat agreeably within Ornette Coleman's approximate note theories, contemporary rhythm precepts, and an improvisational concept that is lean and thin rather than fat. There's also an idea that while a cage may be bereft of life in the proper sense, there's the remaining art, space, and especially the air of a different composition. Of the five tracks bearing the title "Gravity," "Sections 1 - 3" use contrasting active marimba and somber sax, then the group swells and expands, free floating and slightly sparking like static or electro-magnetism itself. "Section 4" is a three-legged funk with clarion unison lines à la Coleman, "5 - 7" much lighter with plenty of space to circulate, "8" has short repeat themes modified in different crazed speeds, and "9 - 11" is a nine-minute, thoughtful spirit-song epilogue. Four more selections called "Tzolkien" are disjointed into non-sequential segments, as "2 + 9" is an on-the-edge, all-out bop with scattered improvs in bursts and shards, while "1 + 13" is shorter, fractured, and spotlights Mears' clarinet via a staggering military march. "3 + 6 + 7" is a funky phalanx waltz, inevitable and cartoonish, but "4 + 5 + 12" is the ultimate brokenhearted, soulful, late-night, last chance, with a cut-to-the-chase bassline from Ivan Johnson. In the middle of all this is drummer/percussionist Paul Kikuchi, at times a diamond in the rough, but mostly the unpredictable X factor that can either make the ensemble stick together with glue, or blow it completely apart on a whim. Claiming not to use music in the strictest theoretic sense, but in their own subversively practical manner, Empty Cage has completely grasped the purely unobstructed. Paradoxes of life in obsequious, obtuse angles seem natural for them, but challenging for anyone else to define how they got to this point. They are making some heady, willful music that deserves attention, and in fact, demands it.

blue highlight denotes track pick