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An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible by Michael Cooke Quintet

On An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible, multi-reed player and composer Michael Cooke leads a quintet with a highly unlikely instrumentation through seven original compositions that draw from a dizzyingly eclectic array of source materials. Though the quintet’s basic sound could be described as ‘avant-garde jazz’, there are multiple layers in Cooke’s compositions that draw significantly upon different world musics (Klezmer, Northern Indian ragas, Australian Aboriginal music, etc.). The band’s instrumentation includes koto (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument), cello, and igil (a Tuvan stringed instrument) in addition to more typical jazz horns and percussion.

The band members themselves have converged from different musical worlds to play Cooke’s music. Koto player Shoko Hikage is, of course, deeply involved in Japanese traditional music. Cellist Alex Kelly and trombonist Jen Baker both have extensive experience with alternative rock and various forms of classical music - from Baroque to contemporary. The musicians’ depth of experience in diverse settings plays out surprisingly well throughout "An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible", as Cooke’s music never seems like an eclectic pastiche. Yet, all are convincing improvisors.

They start off with a bang - ‘Hard 8’ opens the CD an impressive blast of post-Ayler free jazz that manages to be both melodic and chaotic. I particularly enjoyed the way Hikage worked her delicate, spidery koto into the interstices between the horns and Tim Orr’s percussive fusillades. ‘Ha-Me’aggel’ is a multi-sectioned, Klezmer-derived piece that frames Kelly’s mournful rubato cello improv between frantically rhythmic sections driven by Cooke’s skirling saxophone and Baker’s droning trombone. Oddly, Orr seems to be a bit lost on the more uptempo parts of this piece, but it all hangs together nonetheless. ‘Harmonic Rebellion’ provides another blast of red-hot free jazz energy, with Cooke’s big-toned tenor riding crashing waves of percussion.

The remainder of the CD is surprisingly atmospheric. ‘Loss’ is a Klezmer-tinged dirge featuring Baker, Kelly and Cooke on bass clarinet. Titled after the coordinates of the site where a late friend’s ashes were scattered, ‘N 36 7.46 W 121 38.36’ is a slow-paced lament that intersperses bursts of heated free improv with more thoughtful ruminations. Orr is particularly effective here. ‘Love At Twilight’ starts out with an extended rubato section which showcases Hikage’s koto, Cooke (on flute), and Kelly’s wonderfully sonorous igil. The piece gets progressively denser and more frenetic as Baker adds buzzing trombone multiphonics and Orr switches from shakers and bells to drumset.

The multi-sectioned closer - ‘Chain of Existence’ - brings the quintet’s disparate ethnic, classical, jazz, and free improv elements together in surprisingly cohesive fashion. In a way, this one compelling piece sums up what Cooke’s music is all about. The combined focus and free-wheeling energy of the free-bopping section of this piece (‘Event II’) and Hikage’s gripping koto solo on ‘Event III’ make it clear where the real strengths of the Cooke Quintet lie.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Michael Cooke Quintet
  • CD Title: An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Black Hat Records
  • Tracks: Hard 8, Ha-Me’aggel, Loss, Love At Twilight, N 36 7.46 W 121 38.36, Harmonic Rebellion, Chain of Existence
  • Musicians: Michael Cooke (flute, soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, soprano and bass clarinets), Jen Baker (trombone, didgeridoo, singing bowl, Shoko Hikage (koto), Alex Kelly (cello, igil), Timothy Orr (drums, percussion)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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