AMN Reviews: Mat Walerian’s Okuden Quartet – Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter (2020; ESP-Disk’)

Mat Walerian plays sax, clarinets, and flute. He curates the Okuden Music Series in which he has appeared with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Hamid Drake, and others in various configurations. Here, on a double album, Walerian teams with these three gentlemen for what appears to be the first recording of this particular lineup – the Okuden Quartet.

Every Dog… kicks off with a textural piece, The Forest Council. Walerian focuses on clarinets while Parker and Drake move in decidedly non-jazz directions with staggered yet slow-moving rhythmic structures. The overall feel is that of incidental soundtrack music to a dark-themed movie, with Shipp adding sparse chords here and there. There is little change in dynamics through this piece’s 18-plus minutes, but the group’s output evolves at a consistent rate throughout.

After this unusual and compelling start, the album settles into a more expected free jazz bent, with the quartet playing with interactions that swing, go outside, and even use the occasional extended technique or two. Walerian’s bass clarinet, in particular, can add an ominous tone to otherwise more upbeat patterns. Case in point, Magic World Pt 2 – Work features rising and falling chords from Shipp over slowly shifting bass and drum patterns with Walerian wending his way in and around these elements. Some themes stick around long enough to become catchy, while others are more ephemeral.

Sir Denis is another high point in an album of high points, with Walerian (on sax) and Shipp pointedly exchanging and combining on leads before Shipp offers up a rapid-fire solo. On it, his chording traverses jazz and classical realms in a seamless fashion. Business with William manages to navigate between being introspective, noir, and aggressively angular.

Shipp, Parker, and Drake have collaborated so frequently over the last three decades that they seem to have a sixth sense for each other – a certain tightness even when the music is unstructured. And in recent years they have proven again and again that their efforts are in no way “free improv by numbers”. You may think that you’ve heard enough albums by the more seasoned members of this quartet. But you haven’t. And the addition of the younger Walerian reinforces this observation.

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