On this captivating, fully-improvised duo recording by alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella and cellist Tomeka Reid, we find a superlative example of two leading-edge musicians who continue to draw vital inspiration from their forbears. Reid, a contributing member of the hugely influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), has previously paid tribute to some of the titans of that organization—figures such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, and Fred Anderson—with Artifacts, her superb 2015 trio release with Nicole Mitchell and Mike Reed. Mazzarella, whose work has included stints with Ken Vandermark‘s Chicago Reed Quartet and Audio One projects, has similarly acknowledged his debt to pivotal altoists such as Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and Julius Hemphill. Indeed, from the opening track of Signaling, “Blues for Julius and Abdul,” their dedicatory homage to Hemphill and his long-standing musical partner, cellist Abdul Wadud, it’s clear that Mazzarella and Reid have immersed themselves in the waters of 1970s and 1980s avant-garde jazz. The results are invigorating and inspiring.

Both players have impeccable technique: Reid is equally proficient at stirring arco phrases and dynamic pizzicato attacks, while Mazzarella can deliver frenzied upper-register passages at astonishing speed. But on this release it’s the melodic contours of their playing that really stand out. Listening to Mazzarella’s yearning phrases on “Blues for Julius and Abdul,” one is reminded of Hemphill’s own steadfast dedication to melody and groove—an enduring feature of even his most outward-bound playing. Even when pushing himself to the limit, as on the impassioned, rapid-fire dialogue on “Interstices,” or his strenuous overblowing on “Rediscovery of an Age,” Mazzarella’s strong musical core is never far from the surface.

Reid brings the same sensibility to her playing throughout the record. With exceptional command over her instrument, her generosity enables her to sustain the rapport that characterizes the most transcendent tracks on the record, like the mysterious, pulsing “Like So Many Drops of Water,” or “Invoking a Spirit,” the ethereal closer. Just listen to the spare accompaniment she provides on the hypnotic “The Ancestors Speak”: as Mazzarella teases out agonizingly slow, languorous notes, Reid’s understated yet insistent pizzicato offers the perfect support, helping to build a gradual intensity until the piece reaches its culmination and Mazzarella’s alto finally diminishes and subsides.

It is a delight to hear the spirit of the some of the most formative years of avant-garde jazz advanced with such skill and reverence by these two outstanding improvisers. Both do justice to their musical forerunners’ legacy with music that is both beautiful and expertly played.

Track Listing: Blues for Julius and Abdul; Signaling; Like So Many Drops of Water; Interstices; The Ancestors Speak; Topographies; Rediscovery of an Age; Let It Be Known; Invoking a Spirit.

Personnel: Nick Mazzarella: alto saxophone; Tomeka Reid: cello.

Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Nessa Records | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde

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