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Cooke Quintet - An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible

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Artist: Cooke Quintet

Album: An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible

Label: Black Hat

Review date: Jan. 31, 2007

Improvised music, the term woefully and increasingly inadequate, is forced to contend with multiple intertwining histories. For me, post-modern reference and juxtaposition have become less satisfying modes of exploration, mainly due to overuse. I’m always impressed to hear diversity channeled through some sort of overarching compositional vision, nebulous but palpable, that can unify a disc of the most disparate material.

An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible, multi-instrumentalist Michael Cooke’s most recent offering, was an extremely pleasant surprise. Clearly, instrumentation goes some way toward setting the group apart from countless other similar-sized ventures - check the unlikely combination of koto, trombone and cello. Here, my high expectations were validated; while the group’s influences are clearly audible, they are also extremely varied, ranging from the harmolodically drenched in-your-face thrust and drive of “Hard 8” to the meterless Orientalist whispers, metallic rustles and soft moans of “Love at Twilight.”

The way in which sound is presented and group interplay is fostered turns the disc from mere homage to statement. Every player is also a listener, displaying willingness to speak out and to step aside in equal proportion. The sudden drops in volume as soloists switch can be both unnerving and exhilarating, lacking as it is in many “free jazz” settings. Beyond that, the players are obviously engaged with the compositions themselves; when cellist Alex Kelly takes a solo on “Hard 8,” he constructs his line from fragments of the Colemanesque head. Every player is similarly inclined, the koto work of Shoko Hikage being especially noteworthy. Sparse yet bursting with energy, Hikage’s contributions embody the disc’s multivalent roots in every tremoloed and bent utterance. Trombonist Jen Baker was also a revelation, always ready to lend support in lower registers with terrifying swells and rumbles while also an absolutely lyrical soloist.

These musicians have found themselves in excellent company before, but this unit boasts great compositions in equally convincing interpretations. They foster Cooke’s vision, complementing his saxophone, clarinet and flute work with a sonic pallet that is adventurous without succumbing to superficiality.

By Marc Medwin

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