Sabir Mateen

Secrets of When

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Recorded in 2001, this date from the Sabir Mateen Quintet runs the gamut. This is ensemble playing as it tracks the improvisationally uncharted. The sense of aesthetic and dynamic employed by this band is startling in many cases, as the rich dimensional ambiences pursued in Mateen's compositions invite not only free improvisation but instrumental crosstalk from the very insides of the various players' instruments. In other words, soloing comes not only from the imagination of the improviser, but from the grain of the instrument's voice. A fine example is the gloriously elegiac balladry of the title track, with wonderfully painted textures in the harmonic interplay between Mateen's saxophones and Raphe Malik's trumpet abetted by the glorious, richly hued chromatic palette of Naoko Ono on piano. Intensities flutter and shimmer before they take root in an all-out exchange of dialogic imagination between the five principals -- who also include bassist Jane Wang and drummer Ravish Momin. The skitter-and-skronk speaking in tongues that initiates "Inner Conversations" is a legato orgy of scalar counterpoint between Mateen and Malik -- two players whose shared language is among the most synchronistic in free jazz. This is shaman-speak, offered as a cleansing invocation before Ono's piano whispers itself quietly into the space between and Wang's bass begins a new line of dialogue within it. Suddenly, Mateen and Malik are playing around each other in lush, warm tones like Ben Webster and Roy Eldridge in the 21st century. The languid pace, the sultry melody, and the sparseness of Momin's percussive colorings make for something out of time and space. There are six selections here, and all of them display the same startling and symbiotic forms of communication and individual articulation that have made Mateen one of the shining stars in the crown of free jazz. Secrets of When is another chapter in a legacy that continues to unfold in new and fascinating directions.

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