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Lol Coxhill - Out To Launch

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Artist: Lol Coxhill

Album: Out To Launch

Label: Emanem

Review date: Jun. 11, 2003

Improv Grab Bag

Legendary European improviser Lol Coxhill’s Out To Launch is a mixed bag of live performances recorded in Chicago and London. Three of the four tracks on the album are solo soprano saxophone improvisations, all recorded in early 2002. They’re pleasant enough – Coxhill’s playing is consistently engaging, and it’s characterized by lighthearted, loose phrases that are nicely interrupted by big glissandi that sound as if they’re being pushed further up and down than they should be.

Beyond that, though, there doesn’t seem to be any overarching concept guiding Coxhill’s improvisation. There are some squawking multiphonics in “Relaunch One,” and Coxhill’s playing is a little – but only a little – more frenetic on “Relaunch Two.” But in general, the three solo saxophone pieces here meander quite a bit and are overly long. Perhaps they were better experienced live, where the audience might expect, and be excited by, the prospect of merely getting to see a legend like Coxhill. But there are far better recordings of Coxhill’s playing out there, including another fairly recent Emamem release, the brilliant and all-over-the-place retrospective Spectral Soprano.

Out to Launch also contains a live performance by Coxhill’s Unlaunched Orchestra, which features a number of talented improvisers, including trumpeter Ian Smith, trombonist Paul Rutherford, pianist Veryan Weston and electronics performers Steve Beresford and Pat Thomas along with Coxhill and others. The group’s improvisation starts blithely, with members of the audience laughing as the performers begin playing with uncertainty. But the piece quickly takes a more serious tone, as the musicians playing acoustic instruments go to great lengths to blend with the electronics, with the brass and winds playing a variety of extended-technique effects and nervously circling around one another.

Curiously, the only piece in which the Unlaunched Ensemble performs is placed between the solo improvisations, rather than at the beginning or end of the album, which tends to confirm suspicions that there’s nothing tying the solo improvisations together. This wouldn’t normally be a terrible problem – after all, Spectral Soprano included everything from R&B to far-out free improv – but on Out To Launch, there isn’t even much unity within each piece. The solo tracks aren’t bad by any means – Coxhill is a tremendous player, and his accomplishments with the soprano saxophone are unmatched by anyone in the improv world other than Evan Parker and Steve Lacy. But given a choice between this album and other Coxhill albums that are more coherent and/or wild, I wouldn’t choose Out To Launch.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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