Michael Marcus

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Ithem Review

by Steve Loewy

It is curious that this 1993 trio recording, not released until 2004 on the Swedish label Ayler Records, should be such a substantial addition to the discography of American reed player Michael Marcus. There are actually two distinct recording sessions represented, the first three tracks from a concert at the Knitting Factory, and the final two shorter tracks, with slightly inferior sound quality, from a studio recording earlier in the year. What makes it all so special, though, and superior to much of Marcus' other recorded work, is the raw though focused quality of his blowing, both on alto sax and bass clarinet, inspired by the backing of two great jazz accompanists, bassist William Parker and drummer Denis Charles. Marcus seems relaxed, exploring and experimenting, totally in synch with his colleagues. He does not appear too concerned about arrangements or the particularities of the group sound; instead, he plays his quirky heads and simply blows at length, revealing what a wonderfully creative player he can be when he is in top form, as he is throughout. Perhaps Marcus never thought that these recordings would be released commercially and, as a result, he relaxed and stretched out with an emotional warmth both varied and intense, never looking back. His work on bass clarinet is particularly impressive. On "Here At!," for example, his bass clarinet rubs against Parker's string bass, mining the lower tones, producing some beautiful sounds. The variety of rhythms and the attractive angular melodies trace a line to Monk and Ayler, retaining an essentially mellisonant core without sacrificing a radical sensibility. The trio retains the singularity of the jam session with an off-the-cuff informality, so that the solos sing with a propulsive abandon. As a result, this album is a good place to introduce (or reacquaint) listeners to a lesser-known, though powerfully driven reed player and leader with some remarkable talents.

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