Those who believe that jazz can only originate on the coasts have never been to Indiana. Beginning with Hoagy Carmichael and continuing through the Montgomery brothers, Jimmy Spaulding and many others, Indiana has played an important role in jazz history. You may then add to the history the inspired teachers, such as Jerry Coker and David Baker, which have inspired thousands of students, including the likes of Jamey Aebersold, who has continued the tradition for thousands more. After all of this, you are left with more than a lineage, Indiana easily claims a legacy. With their latest release, Take the Mitsu, Mark Buselli and Claude Sifferlen (who both perform regularly at the Chatterbox in Indianapolis) join the pantheon of the Indiana jazz legacy.
Take the Mitsu is mostly totally improvised music (excepting three standards - "My Ideal", "Stablemates" and "The Nearness of You"). This album is proof positive the difference between "totally improvised music" and "free jazz". Whereas "free" jazz provides little in the way of melodic or harmonic foundation for the listener, "totally improvised music" provides a listening experience that combines freedom and foundation, invention and convention, intuition and education. A "free jazz" musician is open to play any note, any sound, at any time; a "totally improvised music" musician is free to play any melody, any harmonic progression, and any time signature at any time. The latter provides a much more accessible - and valuable - listening experience.
The most effective tune is "Syncretism". Moving easily across and among different key centers, the tune gives the feeling of being modal, but at the same time using various harmonic progressions. One thinks of the magic of Miles and Bill Evans. The freedom allows the player to pick his own transitions in time. The player is not locked-down to one or two chord changes per measure, but can choose to move on when the time is right. This method slows and accelerates time as the player moves from section to section. A beautiful technique this is for any fan that doesn’t want their jazz to fit neatly into the status quo.
The truly remarkable aspect of the album is how similar the standards sound to the improvised tunes. It speaks to the weight both players place on not being reigned in by past dictates, to be able to avoid conformity through chord substitution, chromatics, and various other superior devices. Similarly, they value the logic of an improvised piece. The devised progressions make sense, as do the melodies, tones, dynamics, and everything else they play. "The Nearness of You", the final track on the album, is done as a waltz. In this situation, Mr. Buselli is left to burning improvisation - leaving no question to his technique, which here to fore has been mostly in the cool jazz, flugelhorn-warmth vein. Meanwhile, Mr. Sifferlen remains in the Bill Evans mode. Re-harmonizing, re-voicing, and all the while offering the perfect groundwork for the flugelhorn to build.
The same as the telepathy the two share, their individual voices are similarly mystifying. Mr. Buselli’s flugelhorn is enchanting. Reminders of late night jam sessions in smoky rooms with a cigarette burning, a Jack on the bar stool, and the horn pressed tightly against your lips. A combination of Miles, Art Farmer, and so many other bop greats, Buselli gives us no choice but to be held spellbound. Mr. Sifferlen is equally impressive on keys. Whereas the horn almost always has chords and a bass line behind him, when the solo stops, the pianist is left alone. In this situation the player is left to prove himself, and Mr. Sifferlen proves he is a pianist that can stand on his own two feet, or two hands as the case may be.
A truly spellbinding album is Take the Mitsu. It gives hope for the future of jazz to hear music that is both inventive and accessible. Mark Buselli and Claude Sifferlen offer a rare gift to the listener, an album of absolute originality that is nonetheless of the highest quality.