Bill Cole

Proverbs for Sam

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Bill Cole has been one of the true iconoclasts, albeit underrecognized, in the creative improvised music field. Concentrating on the double reed East Indian shenai or Chinese sona, Cole's overtoned and overblown sound is unique in all musics. His longtime musical partner Sam Furnace had blown a mighty and brave but warm alto saxophone, until his sudden death from cancer in 2003. These live performances from the Vision Festival in New York City and at the Burlington, VT based Flynn Center in 2001 feature Cole's stellar Untempered Ensemble, a perfect moniker for this freewheeling, no-holds-barred group that raises the bar on counterpointed lines, world music infusions, and an intrepid approach to pure harmonic invention. Cole, Furnace, and the veteran bass brass player Joseph Daley front percussionists Cooper-Moore, Atticus Cole, and the great Warren Smith. They form a bulletproof combo, with bassist William Parker as the constant in the middle, to forge individualism that spurs all the others onward. Proverbs for Sam consists of four rather lengthy improvisations, with titles based on Nigerian Yoruba adages that in this review will be edited in lieu of descriptors. "Don't Wait for the Day of Battle..." is a steady African percussive workout, a multi-polyphony featuring Cole and Furnace in full flight, both tuneful and out. "If a Blacksmith Continues to Strike..." uses the repeating resonant sound of a single metallic note informing the vocal timbre of Cole's didgeridoo and Daley's tuba in low levee moans, building slowly in volume and intensity. The 23-and-a-half minute groove of "The Drum Sounding a Message in War..." is melodically and exotically sophisticated in a caravan march strut of steadily streaming, layered, and dense heat, with the double reeds of Cole a focal point on top of Furnace's neat and clean alto. Two free sections and a fabulous drum solo from Smith are tacked on. The lone piece from the Flynn Center, "No One Knows the Paths in a Garden Better Than the Gardner..." at nearly 25 minutes, begins with a flute and marimba dance and hushed tones from the metal and wood implements while Parker's probing bass comes to the forefront leading to a tuba funk beat, more shenai, a free all-out artistic discourse, and another masterful solo from the brilliant Smith. Specifically, this recording will appeal to the challenged listener only, but it has a depth, spirit, and soul transcending many other similar projects, while standing proudly alongside musics from the Art Ensemble, other A.A.C.M. groups, and the modernists of the African-American root-strata disapora self-determining tradition.

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