Seraphic Light Live At Tufts University
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2018 live release. Seraphic Light is an exemplary long-form work of collective creative improvisation, performed by three masters of this high art. These three masters each possess a complete and total devotion to the music. On this very rare trio meeting they manifest a meditative resonance, replete with lyrical exploration, throughout a sublime set. While William Parker and Matthew Shipp are each deservedly world-renowned as players-improvisers-composers due to their extensive recording and performance work as leaders, Daniel Carter remains an underground figure on the world stage; even relatively so within New York City where he has been ceaselessly active since the mid-'70s. He is a masterful player of deep lyricism and passion; in possession of gorgeous tone across a full range of wind instruments. Seraphic Light showcases Carter on all of these instruments and in a characteristic style in which his melodies prod and ply, concurrently asserting and suggesting. As he has recently entered his seventh decade of non-stop creation, it is hoped that this recording -in the company of well-esteemed peers- will go some measure to increase recognition of the gifts he has long offered. Recorded live in the performance hall of Tufts University (Boston) in April 2017.
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In 2017, Tufts University presented a program on “Art, Race, and Politics in America.” The evening started with a film, the 1959 documentary, Edward O. Bland’s The Cry of Jazz, , with Sun Ra on camera. The second part of the program was a Q&A session with these three distinguished front edge musicians. Following that, Carter, Parker and Shipp played this concert, fifty-five minutes of seemingly wholly improvised music. Whatever, it is free jazz at its best and a good rebuttal to those who think music like this is just noise. The format –horn, piano and bass, no drums—is of course familiar, as its use to play free jazz. Think Jimmy Giuffre trio and 1961 –Giuffre on clarinet, Paul Bley on piano, Steve Swallow on bass.
But though just as intellectual a music as that groups at moments, over all this is a fierier blend, and more directly indebted to the wonderful ensembles of Cecil Taylor and some of the work of the great Chicago avant groups of the late 60s and early 70s, like the Creative Construction Company and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. No matter! It’s great music –not always easy to listen to, and Shipp’s stormy piano work often reflects as well the atonal and twelve tone experiments of composers such as Schoenberg, Weber, and Berg. In short, the boundaries of different musical approaches break down in these three long (13 minutes to 21 and a half) explorations, which move from one mode of playing and musical mood to another seamlessly and quickly, with a logic that is only apparent after the transition has occurred.
I knew the work of Parker and Shipp before this recording but of Carter not at all. All three are bears on their chosen instruments. Shipp can play absolutely anything on piano. He shifts from passages of thundering block chords, Carter’s reed or horn floating above and Parker’s strong, definite bass line supporting them underneath, to staccato runs of single notes and twelve-tone-like single note leaps up and down. When Parker and he get going, they cook. Shipp sometimes reminds me of the equally ferocious piano player Borah Bergman and Shipp’s up tempo duet passages with multi-instrumentalist Carter (what a revelation he is!) remind me of Bergman’s ferocious 2013 duet album, Fire Tale, with ultra-modernist saxophonist Evan Parker. (That’s praise!) Carter is a revelation! His playing on every instrument, from the flute with which he starts piece #1 to the soprano sax closing of piece #3, is tasty, responsive, and displays a musical sensibility of the highest order. This music is only intermittently lyrical but when it is, Carter rises to the challenge with bells on. As to Parker, what can you say? He is one of the great bassists playing today, renowned for the quality of his sound deep, resonant, strong), his ability to drive the music rhythmically, and equally his ability to imply a musical key without freezing it –there’s an indeterminacy to his p,ayi9ng that opens up the chord structure for his fellow players.
It should be obvious that I think this a superior album. Casual listeners to jazz will probably not enjoy it, any more than they would Coltrane’s classic Ascension album, but like Ascension, it marks where a music is today and what it can be.