With Marionettes on a High Wire, veteran avant-garde trumpeter Baikida Carroll joins the roster of OmniTone Records, which since 1999 has fast become synonymous with quality forward-thinking jazz. Joining Carroll are Erica Lindsay on tenor sax, Adegoke Steve Colson on piano, Michael Formanek on bass, and Pheeroan akLaff on drums. There's a beautiful kind of daring in the music -- a rough tenderness in Carroll's trumpet tone, a palpable spiritual commitment from all the players involved. Leading off with "Ebullient Secrets," Carroll and his group unleash a highly adventurous sound while remaining within certain jazz parameters: planned solo rotation, distinct harmony and form, straight swing tempo. This more straightforward aspect of Carroll's writing style comes through as well on the ballad "Miss Julie," on the moody bossa "Down Under," and on two waltzes, "Our Say" and "Velma." But Carroll's concepts of dissonance, which extend well into the rhythmic arena, give several tracks a freshness and multi-dimensionality that is truly rare. Listen to Colson's piano comping behind Lindsay's tenor solo on "Griot's Last Dance" (written in memory of Don Cherry) for a good example of the uncentered yet perfectly coherent logic of Carroll's vision. Other highlights along these lines include the fast-swinging modalism of "A Thrill a Minute," the Julius Hemphill tribute "Flamboye," and the evocative title track, which features Formanek and akLaff in engaging, unpredictable combinations. Carroll composed "Miss Julie" for a staging of the Strindberg play of the same name, and he wrote both "Our Say" and "Cab" for Emily Mann's Tony Award-winning play Having Our Say.
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AllMusic Review by David R. Adler