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Gold Sparkle Band - Fugues & Flowers

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Artist: Gold Sparkle Band

Album: Fugues & Flowers

Label: Squealer

Review date: Oct. 30, 2002

A Gold Sparkle Sampler

Fugues and Flowers is another fine outing from Brooklyn’s Gold Sparkle Band, who belong in an outstanding class of jazz artists like Ellery Eskelin and William Parker. What unifies them is not only a deep familiarity with free jazz and a willingness to play it, but also a viewpoint that dissonance and free rhythms are simply two of many possible options. They all possess the ability to not only move effortlessly between composed and improvised sections, but also to play in many different styles and change direction smoothly.

Style changes are indeed the order of the day on Fugues and Flowers, which is similar to a Vandermark 5 record in the sense that the Gold Sparkle Band seem to relish making every track vastly different from the one that preceded it. For example, drummer Andrew Barker begins “Zodiac Attack” with a busy, propulsive vamp, over which alto saxophonist Charles Waters sprays free, visceral, Daniel Carter-like lines. Then comes the plodding, space-filled “Second City Fugue (Subject),” which feels almost silent in comparison, until the piece settles into a quasi-Arabic groove eleven minutes after it begins. Similarly, the quartet’s lovely cover of Parker’s “Holiday for Flowers” is slowly swinging and rather harmonically and rhythmically conventional. But the piece that follows it, “Motor City Fugue,” takes its time building up to a multidirectional free frenzy - with Waters, Barker, bassist Adam Roberts and trumpeter Roger Ruzow all at full tilt - before adding an encore rendition of “Zodiac Attack.”

Fugues and Flowers also feels like a grab bag – in addition to the frequent style changes, the album was recorded at several different locations and the sound quality varies from track to track. For example, Roberts is almost inaudible on the first performance of “Zodiac Attack.” And despite the fact that five of the six pieces here have the words “fugue” or “flowers” in their titles, there’s no obvious conceptual or musical thread to tie them together. Fugues and Flowers is best viewed, then, as a sampler of the many things the Gold Sparkle Band does well, and on that account, the many Vandermark 5 fans who aren’t familiar with the Gold Sparkle Band should find Fugues and Flowers more than worth their time. But those looking for a more cohesive, better-recorded document might first want to check out the Gold Sparkle Band’s superb 2000 album, Nu Soul Zodiac.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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