Sunday, June 8, 2008

Marilyn Mazur's Potent "Elixir"

The small handful of people who know of Marilyn Mazur (I can't really say that I did up until I read a review of this album in Downbeat and wanted to hear it myself) know her as a late Miles Davis sideman and as Jan Garbarek's longtime percussionist. Out of those two, her latest, "Elixir," falls closer to the latter's work, but mostly because Garbarek is her only collaborator on half of the album. The rest is made up of short pieces and improvisations for percussion, all of which manage to straddle the (very thin, in this case) line between creepy and ethereal. Mazur understands that space is an incredibly important element in any kind of percussion album, and each of the 21 tracks contains its fair amount of silence and lengthy tones.

The real draw of this album, admittedly, is the ability to listen to Mazur and Garbarek, two nearly telepathic collaborators, play together in ways that they never get to play together in Garbarek's current new-age ensemble. "Joy Chant" and "Orientales" in particular contain some amazing saxophone work, with Garbarek playing like he hasn't played since his seventies stint with Keith Jarrett's classic European Quartet or at least since his early solo work for ECM. Those two songs are treat to hear, as is "River," on which Garbarek plays some incredible (and, oddly enough for Garbarek, incredibly bluesy) soprano saxophone; on "River," as in all of the collaborative tracks, Mazur creates a colorful rhythmic and melodic backdrop that Garbarek reacts to in the foreground.

Each of the solo percussion tracks, of which my personal favorites are "Creature Walk" and "Bell Painting," follows its own logic. Each song sounds like its title; "Creature Walk" created by a quick, rhythmically complex series of motifs that create the aural equivalent of some sort of small reptile, "Bell Painting" a simple, 55 second long static work of art create by bells as opposed to brush-strokes.

Obviously "Elixir" is not an album for everybody. It is not a straight ahead jazz or fusion album, and it has virtually nothing in common with the work of today's great young innovators (Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Lionel Loueke) other than its search for something new in the jazz idiom. In all honesty, it has more in common with the quarter-tonal classical compositions of an artist like Jo Kondo or Lou Harrison than anything by, say, Charlie Parker (with the exception of Garbarek's startling bluesy bop licks on "River"). That said, though, for adventurous listeners who are interested in different approaches to improvisational music (and especially for non-drumset percussionists), "Elixir" is a must-listen.

1 comment:

Trash Mammal said...

i'm pretty sure neither scarlett johansson nor marc ribot spells their name "marilyn mazur."