Music Reviews

Daniel Carter / Reuben Radding


AUM Fidelity

AUM Fidelity is nothing if not consistent.

Let’s give half a century over to avant-garde jazz music. We’re going to discount the first thirty years, the big bands, the improvisers, and a good portion of the bop heyday. We’re going to focus on improvised music. Improvised jazz music. Jazz instruments. Jazz cadence, jazz rhythm.

What does it say now? Take a garbled string of notes, or a drawn out contemplative melody and try to translate it.

Daniel Carter has been playing since the late Seventies. That’s before I was born. He has been playing music since before I was born, and the best criticism of his work I can come up with is that jazz is a dead art form. I mean, why doesn’t Carter look at some of the other improvised music going on right now? Why won’t there ever be a Daniel Carter collaboration with Sachiko M?

What is it about this jazz idiom that refuses to be usurped by its lagging functionality? Even at its most progressive, it is painfully nostalgic. I feel guilty for lauding yet another gleefully oblivious vestige of jazz age past.

But as bassist Reuben Radding’s wife says of Carter in the liner notes to Luminescence, “he makes you want to be a better person.” A piece of praise she could just as easily bestow on her husband, whose sheer sensitivity to Carter’s playing, his ability to timbrally match the saxophone with his bass harmonics is rather awe-inspiring in and of itself. Making an acoustic bass, an instrument somewhat devoid of the gesturality and violence of a reed instrument, sound like free jazz orchestra is pretty impressive. Harmonics aren’t a new extended technique anymore, but Radding’s control is shocking.

Yet, here I am lauding another jazz album for its players’ sensitivity, completely ready to launch into another paragraph about how superb the players phrase their free melodies, and I’m catching myself. I don’t want to do this again. AUM Fidelity is great, sure, they release fantastic free jazz albums, by titans of the genre. The vocabularies of these players are highly personalized, highly expressive, and yet still under these restrictions that I am starting to have trouble understanding.

I’m not saying these players should all run out and find a computer player to augment their playing, I think the Thirsty Ear label, despite earnest efforts, ruled out some of those kinds of collaborations (but granted, DJ Spooky is the one of the only people established enough in that New York Free Improv community to be hand-selected, and god knows, he’s not that particularly interesting or progressive). Yet, isn’t there something else to be said? Don’t jazz players ever feel like their territory has been a little bit too staked out? That despite their best intentions, their love for the genre, their overpowering dedication to their work in that field, that the possibilities just might be exhausted?

There is a reason this music is still alive in New York. New York is a city that still sounds like free jazz. Yet, Reuben Radding makes a specific claim to the vitality of Seattle, where this album was recorded almost two years ago. I don’t know. The spirit of jazz is alive. You can be in your car, and driving, and there is nothing more fitting than the sounds of horns playing skewed melodies, sweetly jogging your memory and simultaneously describing the present. To be progressive, it doesn’t have to sound like a refrigerator buzzing.

Luminescence is very good. It is optimistic and evocative. It is still frustrating, without a doubt. If you’ve heard a release on AUM Fidelity, you know what you’re getting into here. But, what’s one more high-quality free jazz release in your collection?

AUM Fidelity Records:

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