...The group's interaction is nothing short of preternatural, and it sometimes seems...
Bill Tilland 2002-11-20
The Mujician quartet has had the same personnel for close to fifteen years -- one reason why they're consistently able to deliver on their demanding form of free improv, which is done totally without a net. No charts, no prearranged chords or keys, no initial rhythmic pulse and no set order of performance. Someone supplies an initial piano arpeggio, a cymbal crash, a tenor honk, whatever.... and then the music just takes off, unfolding in accord with the group's collective will.
Fans of traditional jazz often regard such methodologies as metaphorically equivalent to playing with one hand tied behind the back -- a gratuitous, unnecessary challenge -- but in fact it's a way of keeping things fresh, of continuing to surprise and inspire your fellow musicians, while sharing musical journeys with the listener where every note is a step into the unknown. Granted, no one is going to start humming a typical Mujician piece after a few spins, but neither is Mujician's music going to induce a state of numbed familiarity after three or four minutes of exposure. As a listener, it's mainly a matter of what you're looking for -- the comfortable, well-trodden path, or challenging, open-ended exploration.
This latest Mujician release (their fifth on Cuneiform) is a bit of a departure for the group, as it consists of fifteen relatively short pieces, divided into two broad sections. Their earlier recordings generally feature much longer pieces, which develop at a different pace, often building slowly to one or two crescendos. The shorter improvisations on this CD seem to give the music a greater number of shapes, some which are altogether leisurely and lyrical, some full-tilt almost from start to finish, and some with a dramatic ebb and flow. The group's interaction is nothing short of preternatural, and it sometimes seems scarcely credible that Mujician is not working from scores or at least pre-arranged structures.
Drummer Tony Levin and bassist Phil Rogers have some nice solo spots, and typically add textures and colors more than a steady pulse. Group members frequently pair up or operate as impromptu trios; the music is fluid and dynamic, cycling through a wide range of textures and emotional colours Pianist Keith Tippett and saxman Paul Dunmall are prominent, of course, but perhaps a little less aggressive than on some previous dates. Tippett uses a prepared piano on a number of tracks, sometimes coaxing harpsichord-like timbres from it, and sometimes producing sounds that are decidedly more eerie. Dunmall logs in some substantial time on his "second" horn, the soprano, and displays a wonderfully delicate touch and sensibility. But he also adopts a more fervent mode at times, giving voice to swirling ululations and ecstatic cries. And when he drops down to his tenor -- as he does on several pieces -- he can resemble a certifiable force of nature.
As a group, Mujician can roar or sizzle when they have a mind to -- but energy music is only one of the many bases they touch on this fine recording.