Picks and Pans Review: The Sixth Sense
The Don Pullen Quintet
Avatars of the New York jazz scene, Murray and Pullen are prodigious soloists who whip up tsunamis of sound on their instruments (saxophone and piano, respectively). Murray's album is notable more for the four dramatically different settings he creates than for the soloing he does within those settings, bracing as it is. The first of the four, David-Mingus, belongs to guest guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer and to Murray's bassist, Lonnie Plaxico. Ulmer drives this bluesy theme relentlessly, yet his way of picking and phrasing is so sidelong it seems to emanate from a dream. The next piece, Death, is a haunting duet between Plaxico and Murray, on bass clarinet. As both instruments climb to the height of their range, their voices elongate and entwine, mirroring each other. In the third piece, a lush, overflowing All the Things You Are, the key figures are drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith and pianist Pullen, in a guest appearance. Pullen's skittering right hand, creating a shower effect, and Smith's shimmering cymbals make magic. The last number is called Tension; as Murray, on tenor, and Smith, in a great solo, demonstrate, it is actually about the liberating release of tension.
Pullen's album is nearly as eclectic as Murray's, but is less embrace-able. On side one, Donald Harrison, a technically impeccable young alto saxophonist, solos in a patterned, intellectualized way. Pullen's complex solos can be fascinating, but as he ups the ante with each chorus his blurring right hand sometimes starts to blather. Side two is much better, starting out sassy (trumpeter Olu Dara has a shapely, darting solo), turning tender (an affecting duet between Pullen and Harrison) and ending with a joyous but all-too-brief (1:58) New Orleans-style strut. After the preceding ups and downs, it feels like a celebration for survivors. (Both albums on Black Saint)
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