Ed Sarath

Last Day in May

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Ed Sarath's session here with David Liebman, Harvey Swartz, Mick Goodrick, and Smitty Smith, like all of his other recordings, is a study in precise use of direction and composition in a varied field where improvisation is not only a possibility, but a desired road to travel. Last Day in May is a look at an ensemble that should have been a touring group because of the bandmembers' intense, musical interplay and sensitivity. The set opens with a modal piece called "Solidarity." It resembles Coltrane's "Impressions" in its up-tempo blowing pattern, except for the fact that it contains an extended bridge. Goodrick's gorgeous, lush touch on the changes is wonderful for Sarath's charging off the mode. There are numerous pieces where Liebman's soprano and Sarath's trumpet have room to engage in improvisationally intricate duets; one of them is "Dance of Gaia." Liebman and Sarath float around and through each other, touching on the last notes of the other's phrase and moving toward a middle that is not defined. This is inward-bound improvisation, and highly unusual as it occurs before a duet proper begins prior to the rest of the band even entering. Here, Smith's skittering, glistening drums fasten the rhythm to the rest of the band as Swartz underscores Goodrick and Smith with continuous loping lines that are understated yet unbelievably fluid. The most compelling piece on the record, however, is "Old Age," with its knotty arpeggiated chord progression. It moves through ambiguous and mysterious emotional terrain and has a lovely bowed solo by Swartz. When Sarath and Goodrick move into the piece about halfway through, they take all the long oblique shadows away and move into a tougher kind of swinging meditation, adding depth and dimension to an already moving piece. This is a record of intricate, very detailed communication. It has an acute sensitivity that balances well with the muscularity of its players and Sarath's sublime compositions.

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