Jazz CD Reviews

Living by Lanterns – New Myth/Old Science – Cuneiform

Sun Ra’s legacy becomes the basis for new, original compositions.

Published on April 13, 2013

Living by Lanterns – New Myth/Old Science [10/2/12] – Cuneiform RUNE 345, 44:26 ****:

(Greg Ward – alto saxophone; Taylor Ho Bynum – cornet; Ingrid Laubrock – tenor saxophone; Tomeka Reid – cello; Mary Halvorson – guitar; Jason Adasiewicz – vibraphone; Joshua Abrams – bass; Tomas Fujiwara – drums; Mike Reed – drums, electronics; Nick Butcher – electronics (tracks 1, 4))

Sun Ra’s music continues to influence and inspire those who prefer outsider music, that crossing of avant-garde and free jazz, where there are no restrictions and imagination and exploration are paramount. The one-off nonet, Living by Lanterns, brings a fresh twist to Sun Ra’s legacy. Group co-leaders Mike Reed (drums) and Jason Adasiewicz (vibes) were commissioned by the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS), which maintains the Sun Ra Audio Archive (a repository for all things Sun Ra) to craft something new. Reed was given an iPod with over 400 hours of material (it would take 16 straight days to hear it all, if you’re wondering). Reed chose a rehearsal tape dubbed “NY 1961,” featuring Ra on electric piano, John Gilmore on tenor sax and flute, and Ronnie Boykins on bass. This was the starting point which culminated in the 44-minute, seven-track New Myth/Old Science. Sun Ra’s tape contained no fully formed compositions, but rather a lot of stream-of-consciousness impressions. Some of these were manipulated into original works, extended for a nine-piece ensemble and turned into the music heard here. This is not a tribute or homage. Reed explains, “After figuring out the band, the first step in the process was to completely dismiss the idea of commenting or honoring Sun Ra. The more interesting idea was of creating new music using someone’s unfinished, unwanted and abandoned material.”

The large group is a mixture of Chicago and East Coast musicians, including four members of Reed’s Loose Assembly (Reed, Adasiewicz, cellist Tomeka Reid and bassist Joshua Abrams) alongside Boston/New York denizens Taylor Ho Bynum (on cornet), guitarist Mary Halvorson, alto saxophonist Greg Ward and tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. Nick Butcher adds electronics to two pieces. Apparently the only overt Sun Ra material is a brief philosophical spoken word snippet about myth, faith and reality, which opens the album. New Myth/Old Science premiered live at the 2011 Chicago Jazz Festival, was recorded a few days later, and issued in October, 2012. Although the music has been out for about six months, this is a record which resonates and is still ripe for hearing.

The music commences with the nearly 12-minute “Think Tank,” featuring Adasiewicz’s resounding mallets, Halvorson’s hard rock meets avant-garde guitar salvo dissimilar to anything in Sun Ra’s discography, shifting harmonic intricacies, and finely hued rhythmic subtleties via Fujiwara and Reed’s twinned drums (which pan across the stereo spectrum). Though “Think Tank” is not Sun Ra, it does exemplify a likeminded experimental essence. The other cuts are shorter but not less intriguing. “2000 West Erie” has a bop-disposed structure (while preserving looseness) which suggests Sun Ra’s 1950s material, while keeping a modern sensibility. There is a bracing tussle between Ward and Laubrock that is both bridling and torsional. There is a related, bop-tinted configuration to “Forget B,” where once again Adasiewicz displays his vibrant vibes prowess and Laubrock showcases her tenor magic. Like “2000 West Side,” there is a slight movement from conventional to freer efforts as the tune progresses. “Forget B” flows directly into “Grow Lights,” although the two numbers are distinctly different. Here, luminescent minimalism is at the core, defined by Abrams’ lyrical arco bass and a dramatic organization which also focuses on Halvorson’s low-key guitar and the impressionistic percussion and horns. Atmospheric electronics begin “Shadow Boxer’s Delight,” but the number quickly alters to an exotica-tinged layout, with a South Seas spirit spotlighted by Reid’s cello and doubled by Abrams’ bass. Vivid closer “Old Science” contrasts Halvorson’s angular guitar and Ward’s penetrating alto sax, and also includes a conversant, notched rhythmic foundation from the two drums and single bass. The culmination is a climactic coda where all of the horns ride and ride atop the drums and bass. Living by Lanterns prove Sun Ra remains a fertile bedrock to cultivate visionary music, and atypical and diverse compositions don’t have to be aloof or user unfriendly.

TrackList: New Myth; Think Tank; 2000 West Erie; Shadow Boxer’s Delight; Forget B; Grow Lights; Old Science.

—Doug Simpson




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