Confusion Bleue: East Side Banquet [Ictus 164]
This sextet date from Japanese-American pianist Nobu Stowe’s Confusion Bleue project blends electric and acoustic instruments and electronics into a multi-hued, melody-driven take on free improvisation.
The CD is structured into seven movements arranged out of sequential order. Movement V begins things brightly, with a brisk 4/4 free swing, sometimes implied and sometimes made explicit by Lisle Ellis’s broken walking basslines and Ray Sage’s propulsive drumming. Trumpeter Brian Groder’s rich, warm tone is to the fore here, as it is throughout much of the recording. Ross Bonadonna’s bass clarinet is somewhat down in the mix, but adds an essential supporting color. Stowe’s piano enters about halfway through, lending the piece a Phrygian flavor and bringing it to a brief, pensive coda. Following the muted mood of Movement I, Movement III opens with squared-off eighth notes on the piano, building to a pulse accented by Bonadonna’s funky syncopation on guitar. Movement II is largely a dialogue of trumpet over tom-toms, with Ellis’s arco bass shadowed by Lee Pembleton’s electronics. Movement VI is anchored by Stowe’s tonic-dominant pedal figures, while the fiery Movement VII represents a free interpretation of Nardis that manages to preserve the genetic blueprint of the original. The disc closes with the Lydian-tinged balladry of Movement IV.
This is collective improvisation with a well-balanced and mutable approach to relating and interchanging background and foreground. Sage and Ellis deserve special mention for their adeptness at maintaining coherence in the midst of freedom, serving to structure and color the sound as needed.