Picks and Pans Review: New Beginnings

updated 10/30/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/30/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Don Pullen

Don Pullen plays the piano with such pounding intensity that he occasionally skins his knuckles and the sides of his hands, drawing blood. In the midst of lilting improvisational runs, he unleashes tidal waves of harmonic energy, crashing note clusters that give his music a density some listeners may mistake for atonality. But a melodious resolution of the frenzy invariably follows the storm. New Beginnings is the work of a modern master at peak form. Leading a stellar trio including bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Tony Williams, Pullen swings with a freewheeling exuberance that is both aggressively forward-looking and firmly rooted in the gospel-and-blues traditions. The down-home simplicity of "Jana's Delight" is reminiscent of his previous collaborations with soul singers Big Maybelle and Ruth Brown, while the shifting melodic contours and offbeat rhythmic humor of the title track recall his '70s apprenticeship with the bassist-composer Charles Mingus. Amid the ominous grandeur of "Warriors" and the unbridled ferocity of "Reap the Whirlwind," Pullen often makes his clusters dance. And he brings a cock-of-the-walk bravado to the flamenco piece "At the Cafe Centrale."

Pullen's percussive style is tempered during the session by the earthy lyricism of Peacock's bass lines and Williams's buoyant, cymbal-driven beat. The interaction of the trio is subtle and seamless, yet consistently daring. This is music of uncompromising originality that should delight even neophyte jazz lovers because it comes from a wellspring of joy. (Blue Note)

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