Tom Varner

Second Communion

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Tom Varner's second OmniTone disc is a tribute to one of his chief role models, Don Cherry. In addition to four originals inspired by Cherry, Varner includes a captivating, full-length update of the "Complete Communion" suite from 1965 as well as a slightly sped-up "Elephantasy" (part one only) and an imaginative take of "Cherryco" from the album The Avant-Garde. (For another reworking of "Complete Communion," see the DKV Trio's Live in Wels & Chicago, 1998.) Varner's misfit of a jazz instrument -- the French horn -- seems fitting given that Cherry played cornet, not trumpet, on the original version. As if to capture some of that authentic flavor, Dave Ballou plays brilliant cornet on three cuts; guitarist Pete McCann's snarling guitar pyrotechnics add a thoroughly modern dimension to the reimagined suite and the epic "Don's Big View." Tony Malaby's muscular tenor sax captures the raw energy of Gato Barbieri without sacrificing originality. Bassist Cameron Brown, who actually played "Complete Communion" with Don Cherry on a number of occasions, brings an indispensable fund of lived experience to the project. And few drummers are closer in spirit to Ed Blackwell than Matt Wilson, who plays the hand percussion textures on the "Remembrance" portion of the suite with uncanny accuracy, achieves a similar effect toward the end of Varner's meditative "Leaving Malaga," and breaks into spirited funk to wind down "Don's Big View." He also adds sensitive flourishes on the closing "Don's Hymn," a haunting one-and-a-half-minute piece for unaccompanied French horn. Just before the track ends, Varner emits a single, definitive rasp through the tangled coils of his horn, signing off with the sound of his life's breath.

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