Cimmerian Crossroads, the third album from saxophonist Rent Romus and the Life’s Blood Ensemble, is a postmodern exploration of the subtleties of stylized improvisation. Romus plays both alto and soprano sax, and he fronts a unique ensemble featuring Kim Cass and Markus Hunt on double bass, and Timothy Orr on drums and percussion. The 10-track set features original compositions like the mildly swinging “No Predicate” and the wailing “Fateful Tender Joynecessity” as well as some arresting takes on pieces like Ornette Coleman’s “Circle with a Hole in the Middle” and Bill Noertker’s “There Is an Egg.” Romus and the Life’s Blood Ensemble play jazz for the new age.
Hunt leads his own ensemble, The Equity & Social Justice Quartet, in its own excursion to the outer borders of jazz on its initial album, The Whisper of Flowers. With an aesthetic approach influenced by the likes of Ornette Coleman, the quartet creates a sonic landscape with a vitality all its own. The album showcases eight original compositions including a spontaneous solo bass piece, “Poverty Revisited.” This is jazz that pushes the harmonic envelope, perhaps not quite as far as some, but far enough for my taste. Personnel for the 2014 album consists of David Boyce on tenor saxophone, Henry Hung on trumpet, and Orr on drums. A glance at the Hunt website shows that in its current manifestation, the ensemble membership has changed.
Of course, if you want a taste of postmodern jazz from a time before postmodern became the term of art to describe avant-garde jazz, included in the recent spate of releases from Germany’s MPS is Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Research Arkestra’s It’s After the End of the World, recorded live at the Donaueschingen and Berlin Festivals in 1970. Creating its own poetic mythology dressed in the full range of orchestral instrumentation, this is postmodern jazz on a grand scale with a ton of bells and whistles to both delight and confuse.
Sun Ra fills each track of this release with challenging musical ideas, redefining the musical soundscape. Examples include the opening suite’s (“Strange Dreams – Strange Worlds – Black Myth – It’s After the End of the World”) spoken word ritual-like introduction by June Tyson and the pared down “Duos” that concludes the album. Of course, it is not the kind of redefinition that garners popular support, but what postmodern/avant-garde artist was ever really concerned with popular support?
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