Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ROW: Explorations by Teo Macero and Wally Cirillo (Fresh Sound)

A studio Svengali to some and a certified genius to others, Julliard-trained Teo Macero is still perhaps best known for his high profile post as Miles Davis’ longstanding producer and collaborator. Macero’s earlier careers as a saxophonist and modernist jazz-meets-classical composer earn much less ink. This invaluable Fresh Sound compilation gathers some of the best of his output from those largely forgotten years. Seventeen tracks represent four separate Fifities sessions and the notes go into decent detail about the methods and intents behind the compositions. Some of the theory-related specifics are Greek to me, but Macero’s ambitious composerly goals are audibly evident even to the layman. On “Neally”, for example, from a September 1955 nonet session comprised of all-stars like Art Farmer, Eddie Bert and John LaPorta the band negotiates forward-thinking elements of counterpoint, polyphony, polyrhythm, atonality, and free improvisation all within the brisk span of just under five minutes. Several pieces also find Macero investigating the possibilities of overdubbing horn parts, like the Blindfold Test-perfect title composition where five separate Macero sax lines (3 tenor, 2 alto) improvise freely within the loose framework of a chromatic tone series. In addition to all the compositional heavy-lifting, Macero’s tenor beguiles with an aerated cool a/tonality that sounds like a possible progenitor of modern players like Stephen Riley and Mark Turner. The other MVP on three of the four dates is obscure accordionist Orlando DiGirolamo who takes to the musical experiments in textural dissonance like a duck to water, particularly on the first session in a quintet with Macero, bassists Charles Mingus and Lou Labella and drummer Ed Shaughnessy circa 1953(!). As far as protean Fifties free jazz/third stream goes it doesn’t get much better.

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