This collaborative album features nine improvisations by "two of the leading lights of the Chicago creative music scene.” (John Corbett)
Ensemble: Nick Mazzarella / Tomeka Reid Duo
Label: Nessa Records
Release Date: April 21, 2017
Nick Mazzarella – alto saxophone
Tomeka Reid – cello
1. Blues for Julius and Abdul
3. Like So Many Drops of Water
5. The Ancestros Speak
7. Rediscorvery of an Age
8. Let It Be Known
9. Invoking a Spirit
All compositions by Nick Mazzarella (BMI) and Tomeka Reid (ASCAP)
Recorded at Foxhall Studio in Chicago on April 17, 2015 by Dorian Gehring.
Mixed and mastered by Dave Zuchowski.
Liner Notes by John Corbett.
Photography, art direction, and design by Carla Nessa.
Produced for release by Chuck Nessa.
Cover artwork by Eleanor Coen, untitled, c. 1944, goache on paper, courtesy of the Eleanor Coen Estate and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago.
Collection of Scott Nielsen and Adriana Ballén.
All About Jazz (4 1/2 stars)
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. – Troy Dostert
Nick Mazzarella and Tomeka Reid acknowledge and embrace the obvious right away on Signaling with an arresting opening number “Blues for Julius and Abdul” that honors two pioneers of the duo format they favor. Hemphill and Wadud put alto and cello tandems on the musical map with their various concerts and recordings hatched in the Loft Jazz era. Mazzarella and Reid are worthy successors although reducing this studio recording down to easily identified antecedents risks missing the striking amount of originality that also informs the encounter. Jointly improvised, each of the nine pieces offers a wealth of inspired activity and interaction.
The gerund in the disc’s title isn’t just concerned with broadcasting influences. It’s also a germane watchword for the close communication that constantly transpires between Mazzarella and Reid and by after-the-fact proxy with the presumable (and hopefully broad) audience for this album. Pointillism reigns on the title piece with fractious fragments reluctantly coming together into a mosaic-like whole. “Like So Many Drops of Water” encompasses Reid’s exacting precision with pizzicato patterns through a lattice of percolating notes that cascade and trickle around Mazarella’s legato musings. Bow also comes regularly into play, but like Wadud before her Reid sounds just as formidable with fingers.
“Interstices” and “Topographies” echo the textural and connective intimations of their titles. The extended techniques employed on each are subtle and deferent to the diligent structure-building at the center of the players interplay. Mazzarella leaps agilely between registers as Reid bow strokes cantilever between strings, the two ranging from vociferous exclamations to murmured whispers. “The Ancestors Speak” features liquid alto in the foreground with Reid adding thrumming accents from the edges, a favor she repeats on the ruminative, rhythmically-diffuse “Rediscovery of an Age”. The pair closes curiously with the hymn-like “Invoking the Spirit”, a sentiment that seems better suited as a prefatory move. Once again expectations prove rightfully upended. – Derek Taylor