Earthquake Island – Jon HassellSpace Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America – Leroy Jenkins
Tomato Records 2024
Tomato Records 2032
The Tomato label built up an impressive catalog of various strains of
(mostly) American music in the 70's before disappearing, as most adventurous
labels eventually do. Their catalog reappeared on CD in the early 90's,
towards the end of the reissue-everything heyday of CDs. Now, more
surprisingly, here it is again. These two CDs represent the "avant" wing of
Tomato, which also had the distinction of issuing a few Philip Glass titles
before he became well-known.
Jon Hassell has made a career of putting an ambient spin on the world/fusion
phase of Miles Davis's work, with a trumpet sound like pitched wind.
Earthquake Island (1979), Hassell's second record, is one of his most
fusion-oriented sets, utilizing Miles and Weather Report vets and even using
a cover painting from Mati Klarwein, of Bitches Brew fame.
Not Hassell's most potent outing (his meeting with Brian Eno the following
year would yield more intriguing results), Earthquake Island is
nonetheless a worthwhile 40-minute expedition, evoking the moods one might
expect from titles like "Voodoo Wind" and "Tribal Secret." It includes a
heavy dose of Nana Vasconcelos's highly personalized brand of ethnic
percussive timekeeping, as well as some Miroslav Vitous bass work which is
funkier than one might have guessed from hearing his Weather Report efforts.
This reporter hasn't heard much of Leroy Jenkins in recent years, but he was
the chief violinist to emerge from Chicago's Association For Advancement of
Creative Musicians. For Space Minds, Jenkins gathers a crew of
AACM-by-association players (pianist Anthony Davis, trombonist George Lewis,
synthesist Richard Teitelbaum) and ex-Cecil Taylor drummer Andrew Cyrille
for a set that combines modern classical influences with atonal but
mild-mannered free jazz.
The 21-minute title suite is a futuristic soundscape heavy on electronics,
with Davis's electric piano being an even more unusual sonic choice for an
AACM outing than Teitelbaum's synthesizer. Of the remaining four short
pieces, sans Teitelbaum, "Through the Ages Jehovah," a through-composed
track setting an off-center melody from Jenkins and Lewis against a unison
accompaniment from Davis and Cyrille, is the most effective. Not as focused
or powerful as the best AACM records, Space Minds does document a
strong crew of musical minds at work.