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Close Embrace of the Earth by Michalowski Khoury and Bukowski

One of my top 10 of 2003, this is a mesmerizing work that showcases the musicianship of these three visionaries: Piotr Michalowski (alto and bass clarinet, baritone, tenor, soprano and sopranino saxophones, little instruments), Mike Khoury (violin, little instruments) and Lenni Bukowski (contra-bass, contra-alto, alto and bass clarinets, alto and bass saxophones, little instruments). Through the course of 11 exquisitely challenging original compositions, the trio paint musically fluid movies of mood and texture that excite, even in their relative quiet.

The first of these pieces, "MU7" (all of the compositions have equally obtuse titles), opens with deep, deep bass clarinet and violin contraposed. The violin bow taps the strings, while soprano saxophone ruminates. The violin then takes a short melodic break only to be chased by bari, alto, and soprano all working over a narrative bass clarinet. "MU4" offers a brash alto saxophone awakening while the violin serenades, and on "MU8" soprano and bass dart like hatchling birds at a nest. Shades of Ornette with many little percussives at play here. Never a case of picking up instruments at random to see what they might sound like, this is a well conceived and one suspects controlled sort of anarchy. A methodical thread of sound, a deep register drone over which reeds and violin converse in whispers.

"MU11" delightfully juxtaposes the bass winds. The interplay on bass clarinet, bass saxophone, and contra-bass clarinet is spellbinding. "Steps" follows with violin, alto sax, and contra-alto clarinet in conversation. "MU2" is a garden pollination piece with the buzzing bee leaving the sunlight for the darkness of the queen bee’s baritone saxophone. OK, somebody reel in the writer, but the compositions are nothing if not visually evocative. "Fly1" combines bass clarinet and bass saxophone with violin and alto saxophone exploring multicolored tonal patterns. Violin works against shifting deep registered reeds. Though they rise through the ranks to higher registers, the mood remains consistently subterranean somehow. There’s a nice, albeit brief violin solo space followed by contrabass clarinet into a fade which segues nicely into the interlude of "KCH5." Here deep and vibratory violin and alto sax work brilliantly. The alto at times mimics a trumpet before a series of ultra deep blows that remind of the intergalactic conversation in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

A tentative violin and shaken rattles and percussion introduce "MU6." Peripheral tenor sax and baritone blurts hover over the violin. Here are breathy reeds and a plucked violin in an atmospheric mood. "KCH1" is bass and contra-bass clarinets in duet in front of the violin introduction. Low registered saxophone and soaring violin live harmoniously together. The closing "MU10," the longest piece on the disc at 10:10, has a wet reed, violin open. This is a quiet, pensive, introspective number that lulls and tantalizes at once.

The brilliance of this wonderful recording is that it is at once musically riveting and supremely challenging, but never abrasive. I am fond of music that dares to be grating and abrasive at times, but this is a decided departure. I don’t recall another recording over the past few years that has taken this almost brooding tact. It is tremendously exciting. It is an emotionally draining piece of music, as well as wholly exhilarating.

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Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Michalowski Khoury and Bukowski
  • CD Title: Close Embrace of the Earth
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Abzu
  • Musicians: Lenni Bukowski (contra-bass, contra-alto, alto & bass clarinets, alto & baritone saxophones, little instruments); Mike Khoury (violin, little instruments); Piotr Michalowski (alto & bass clarinets, baritone, tenor, soprano & sopranino saxophones, little instruments)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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