In the new liner notes that he wrote for Heavy Skies in 2003, producer Hank O'Neal attributes the late Roman Kunsman's lack of commercial success to the fact that he "was never in the right place at the right time." O'Neal speaks the truth; although Kunsman was a talented alto saxophonist, flutist, and composer, he never received the sort of break that would have made him better known in the jazz world. Regrettably, Heavy Skies went unreleased for 24 years. O'Neal and George Avakian co-produced the album in 1979, and jazz critic Nat Hentoff was hired to write the liner notes. But for various reasons, Heavy Skies didn't come out until 2003 -- the year after Kunsman's death. It isn't hard to see why O'Neal and Avakian believed in the Russian-Jewish improviser; Kunsman was an expressive soloist whose jazz playing was informed by the Euro-classical, Jewish, and folk traditions of Eastern Europe. Kunsman, in fact, was quite capable of playing traditional Jewish music, but he sticks to a jazz-oriented approach on this intriguing CD. Heavy Skies has one foot in advanced post-bop and the other in fusion; Kunsman draws on the '60s post-bop of Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk as well as the electric fusion of Weather Report and post-1968 Miles Davis. And having all those post-bop influences makes perfect sense when you consider that traditional Jewish music involves modal playing -- there are definite parallels between klezmer music and Coltrane's early-'60s explorations. Although Kunsman pieces like "Elevation" and "Magic Birds" tend to be cerebral and abstract, the musician's soulfulness comes through. Nonetheless, this is music that must be accepted on its own terms, and Heavy Skies offers rewards to those who aren't afraid of some abstraction.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson