Mike Johnston, Mike Gilmore, Mike Khoury - Impermanence [Triple Bath - 2009]
Mike Johnston, Mike Gilmore, Mike Khoury and Kirk Lucas have joined forces for "Impermanence", a work of hazy oneiric jazz that extends far beyond the bounds of jazz. Sluggish and incandescent, there is a patience to this recording, and a natural acoustic beauty. Vibraphone, gamelan percussion, string bass and viola sing out over a backdrop of velvet black.
This music is deeply exotic, cultured, mysterious, and apparently inspired by travels from Africa to Arabia to Saturn. It is saturated with dissonance, but never jagged; bathes the room in rich, colored swells like light through stained glass. Reverb tales are long, a certain refusal to congeal into rhythmic specificity is evident. The playing postulates to my ears,'it is uncomfortable, yet awkwardly beautiful to endure', exudes acceptance of the unease of impermanence.
Tribute is paid to the complex, exact and solitary deliriums of avant-garde precursors Messiaen, Schoenberg and Boulez in the first 5 tracks, through sickly sweet harmonies. The mindful peace of a new rendition of Sun Ra's "When There Is No Sun" flows out of the speakers like a sudden gentle breeze, complimenting the darker pieces around it perfectly. Then, new instrumentation begins to enter the mix, and we drift completely out of the jazz idiom for the second half of the album.
First to mystic mountain peaks for "Yeti Talks to Rumi": even-toned and interplanar flute intones over a sound like violin bow / sheet metal. The sitar twangs reverently, respectfully. This sustained level of energy implies patience, wisdom. Then, further into the East with "Maghrebi", a percussion dominant composition possessed of the uneven shuffle of a camel's walk, and actually credited to one Ahmed Abdul Malik. There is a remarkable authenticity to all of this. Coldly sonorous and lovingly recorded koto closes out the album with "Still Lake". Gusts of wind have us buoying skyward, and soon we stare down at the water from the clouds above Japan. Whimsical glissandos and tonally drifting strings can be heard as we transition to sleep. The music hollows out and dies away.
"Impermanence" is a mature, ambitious and masterfully conceived album that should appeal equally to the most choosy listeners of both free jazz and modern classical music. The surrealistic emotionality and tonal vibrancy of the music should even convert most naysayers to overly 'academic' music.Josh Landry