Jeff Kaiser's most ambitious project to date, "The Alchemical Mass" is a 33-minute work for a large group of avant-garde musicians/improvisers (the Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet) and mixed chorus (the Ojai Camerata, which commissioned the piece). Based on fragments from a Latin text written by Nicholas Melchior Cibenensis at the turn of the 16th century, the work combines elements of Gregorian chant, Verdi's thunderous Requiem, and conducted texture-based group improvisation. The result is striking (to say the least), powerful, mysterious, and profoundly unique. Some free-form passages seem to lack purpose (especially "Introitus"), but otherwise the interaction between ensemble and choir is highly evocative of the mysteries of Magick. Listeners familiar with the Ockodektet's previous two albums will recognize Kaiser's approach to massed improvisation, but the music here is much darker and solemn (although it never even brushes the kind of rigidity usually found in liturgical music). "Ave Maria and Commune," where Kaiser draws captivating vocal textures from the Ojai Camerata, is his most singular piece of music to date. The sound quality is fine, especially considering the shoestring budget such large projects are recorded on, but better separation between the instruments is still to be hoped for. "Suite Solutio," the second piece on this album, is a very different thing. Performed by the Kaiser/Diaz-Infante Sextet, with Kaiser on trumpet (he only conducts in "The Alchemical Mass"), Ernesto Diaz-Infante on prepared acoustic guitar, trombonist Scot Ray, bassist Jim Connolly, Brad Dutz on percussion, and Richie West on drums, the five-part suite includes fast-paced avant-swing passages, brief Latin American grooves, and extended ad libs. A little bit of the previous work's mood has been carried over, mostly in the pace of each section. The up-close recording of this piece allows one to focus much more closely on individual performances. The interplay between Kaiser and Ray, Dutz's endless resourcefulness, and Diaz-Infante's equivocal contributions are what drive the piece forward, but after the grandiloquence of "The Alchemical Mass," "Suite Solutio" requires several listens before leaving any kind of impression.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture