Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath - Eclipse at Dawn (Cuneiform, 2008)

Pianist, composer and arranger McGregor's great big band was almost forgotten before Cuneiform's series of archival live releases began to shed some much deserved light on this wonderful band. Made up of South African expats escaping apartheid ("South Africa is a great place to come from" dryly notes Ronnie Scott in his introduction) and members of the British jazz scene, the group combined ideas from township jive, free jazz and Ellingtonian big band music into a powerful and cohesive whole. This live performance from Berlin in November, 1971 captures the band at their raucous best. The sound is a little muddy, but not enough to detract from the power of the music. "Nick Tete" leads off the concert proper with a storming riff based performance. Segwaying into "Restless" which is aptly named as it features some of the most hair raising free playing of the album, recalling Cecil Taylor's occasional experiments with larger ensembles, or the Sun Ra Arkestra at their most vehement. Anchoring the album is the long and cinematic "The Bride," clocking in at nearly 16 minutes and moving through many twists and turns. There are some wonderful solos to be found throughout the disc, but it is the ensemble work, which is crisp and tight even amidst the cacophony of the freest aspects of the music that impresses the most. Superb liner notes by Marcello Carlin and some wonderful pictures round out a nearly perfect package. This is one of the most thrilling releases of this still young year, and is very highly recommended to anyone interested in exploring exciting experimental jazz.

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