If you are expecting covers or a recreation of Henry Cow on this album, you will be disappointed. French jazz flautist Michel Edelin, who shared a bill with Cow over 40 years ago and walked away impressed, joined with new and long-time collaborators to produce the aptly titled Echoes of Henry Cow. This is a reimagining of sorts – not a direct tribute to the band, but a reflection of the influence of Cow on Edelin’s own writing and playing. As a consequence, you could listen to much of Echoes of Henry Cow without realizing that it is based in any way on the band’s music. That is, until you hear a hauntingly familiar refrain or theme that might give it away. Gone is the crushing avant-rock with its dense compositions and free-formed improv that remains influential to this day. In its place is a more relaxed yet technical challenging exercise in modern creative jazz.
In addition to Edelin, Sophia Domancich plays piano and Fender Rhodes, Sylvain Kassap is on clarinets, Stéphane Kerecki provides double bass, and Simon Goubert plays drums. Original Cow member John Greaves contributed spoken-word versions of the Chris Cutler texts that accompany the group’s song-oriented pieces. To that point, nothing from Cow’s debut Legend is present, and only one track appears from each of their second and final releases, Unrest and Western Culture, respectively. The vast majority of Edelin’s echoes are based on In Praise of Learning, Cow’s vocally-oriented album. As such, Greaves voices Cutler’s politically-motivated poetry with an appropriate sense of irony.
At the end of the day, the listener has a binary decision to make – one either acquires an album or one does not. As a long-time fan of Cow, this determination was easy for me. But it took nearly six months for me to finally realize and fully appreciate the beauty and appropriateness of Edelin’s approach. Not unlike the music of Cow itself, Edelin’s echoes takes a stubbornly indpendent path. This album is not what you might initially assume that the title suggests, but after enough listens you’ll find that it is named in a fitting manner. Not to mention offering a compelling set of tunes that are suitably angular and unpredictable.