Of course, members of the distinguished avant-garde sax quartet Rova and the raucous avant jazz trio Nels Cline Singers (in which nobody sings, in case you wonder) have intermingled before on a few occasions -- the Ascension project being one. Still, to bring the two together (and their audiences) and to write a repertoire especially for this short-lived septet had to require some guts and determination. And it was effort well invested, since The Celestial Septet is a thrilling record, and one of Rova's most artistically successful collaborations. Recorded in 2008 on two separate occasions, the CD features five works ranging between two and 25 minutes in duration. Strangely, both the shortest and longest piece are Larry Ochs compositions. Singers drummer Scott Amendola, Rova's Steve Adams, and Cline penned the other three pieces, all around the quarter-hour mark. Surprises abound on this album, the biggest one being that, unlike what you would expect, the noisiest, wildest track emanates from Rova's circle, in the form of Ochs' "Whose to Know (For Albert Ayler)," an epic roller coaster of New Orleans-inspired jazz sections, free jazz heads, and all-out noisy improvisation pockets where Cline gets to show off his skills (and electronics), all wrapped up in one of Ochs' typically masterful architectures. Adams' "Trouble Ticket" sounds like the most score-intensive piece, its stop-go melodies and fast pace making it a puzzling yet thrilling track to follow. Compared to it, Amendola's "Cesar Chávez," the album opener, feels sedated, although his lament-like theme and slow-building arrangement is marvelously interpreted by the ensemble. The album concludes on Cline's "The Buried Quilt," which he described in the liner notes as inspired by Sun Ra, and it does have his patchwork layout and seems to emulate Ra's more experimental side, replete with spacy electronics. The Celestial Septet features a high level of amalgamation between the two ensembles and, honestly, one wishes for this combination to carry on. Rova and Nels Cline Singers are more than compatible; they complement each other's compositions.
AllMusic Review by François Couture