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This third disc from Alchemy Sound Project revels in flow, but it opens with a stutter: a staggered melodic motif, written by bassist David Arendt, amplified by the stark stereo image (two horns squarely in each speaker). The evolving theme echoes that motif, building walls of sound that give way to a freely improvised solo from the splendid pianist Sumi Tonooka, and a spirited, driving conversation between the two tenor saxophonists. That’s a lot to pack into less than seven minutes; but then, Afrika Love excels at making this septet sound twice as big as it really is.
Several techniques contribute to this sonic illusion. The arrangements forge the horns into tableaus that range from brash polyphony to pastoral ensembles to attractively dissonant four-horn chorales. This variety relies heavily on the extreme doubling of tenor saxophonists Erica Lindsay and Salim Washington. Together they handle another five instruments, including alto flute and oboe which, on the title track, whisk the listener to a gorgeous sunrise somewhere in the Middle East; it leads to a hard-swinging 6/8 section, with Samantha Boshnack’s trumpet solo punctuated by lower-register warnings from trombone and tenor. And much credit goes to drummer Chad Taylor, whose dry kit sound tempers a rhythmic whirlwind, making the music larger but more intimate at the same time.
Alchemy Sound Project came together as a quintet in 2014 at a weeklong workshop combining jazz and Western classical techniques. As on previous discs, the program includes compositions by all five core members. (On each album, they have invited a different trombonist and drummer; Afrika Love features Taylor and trombonist Michael Ventoso.)
From the descriptions above, you might suspect a kinship with the muscular swagger and compositional audacity of Charles Mingus. You’d be right, but the flattery does not derive from mere imitation. Instead, these musicians — who clearly admire Mingus (and Mingus’ idol, Duke Ellington) — find distinctive ways of extending and expanding his aesthetic. In so doing, they have created a small yet disproportionately mighty repertoire of their own, well served on this intoxicating effort. — Neil Tesser