Northwoods Improvisers

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Spinning Review

by Thom Jurek

The Northwoods Improvisers from Michigan are a unit unto themselves, a creative unit that is based heavily on percussive and tribal sounds of their own creation, their own tribal notions. Over the course of four albums and untold concerts, the trio of Mike Gilmore, Mike Johnston, and Nick Ashton has woven an earthy and mystical music of truly enormous proportions. Understanding intimately the intricacies of overtonal sound concepts and their properties of sonances, the Improvisers have taken their sound studies to England's ARC label for Spinning. Using a plethora of percussion devices (vibes, marimbas, steel drums, cheng, shakers, rattles, etc.), a double bass, and wood flutes, the Improvisers weave together sounds both ancient and modern in a highly idiosyncratic personal iconography that is universally acceptable by those interested in primitive musics and wildly sophisticated in a modern sense for those interested in the improvisational and harmonic process as it relates to jazz. On Johnston's "Hard Count," vibes call forth both the meter and the melody in a deft series of half-tone moves that recall both Bobby Hutcherson's funk and Milt Jackson's sense of space. On the free for all "Red Shift," the Improvisers cover the earth in bass and cheng logic while all manner of tom-toms and hand drums cover the base before triple-timing the melodic instruments in tandem. In all, there are more surprises here than there is language for. Yes, there is something new under the sun, all built not only from the old instruments but the old ways of conceiving group harmony, interplay, and approaches to whole-tone studies. This is brave music you can dance to or hum along with. Spinning is accurately titled; it spins a host of tales so ancient they can no longer be told openly, and offers them in a groove so deep and wide you have no choice as a listener but to sink right in and start moving.

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