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Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble - Seasoning The Greens

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Artist: Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble

Album: Seasoning The Greens

Label: Boxholder

Review date: Jan. 27, 2003

Hojok, Nagaswarm, Sona, Digeridoo

One of Bill Cole’s calling cards is his ability to play free jazz on a seemingly endless number of nonwestern instruments: the digeridoo, the Korean hojok, the Indian nagaswarm. Cole is hardly the first free jazz musician to turn his attention to nonwestern traditional music: to varying degrees, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders all took cues from outside the west, and many of the most important features of jazz can be traced back to Africa. But few improvisers make their nonwestern influences as explicit as Cole does.

It makes sense that improvisers like Cole would look to India, for example, for inspiration. I’m trying to avoid lumping together all music indigenous to the Far East, the Middle East, India and Africa, but in this case, it almost makes sense; not because those types of music are really all that similar, but because both free jazz and the types of nonwestern music listed share many of the same dissimilarities with regard to music idigenous to the West. Both contain plenty of improvisation, feature complex and ever-changing beat patterns, and strive for transcendence in a way that long ago became unpopular in most genres of Western music.

But Seasoning The Greens is successful not only because free jazz and many types of nonwestern music share characteristics, but also because Cole knows how to add up their differences in a natural way. Seasoning The Greens is essentially a jazz record, and an extroverted one at that, with unhinged solos and swinging grooves cropping up everywhere. But the nonwestern elements – the exotic instruments, the ceremonial rhythms after which many of the tracks are named – aren’t just window dressing. On “South Indian Festival Rhythm,” for example, Cole’s solo on the Indian shenai (a double reed instrument that sounds like an oboe) is as free as you please. But many of the contents of his improvisation, like his style of circling around a drone, or his use of busy, slurred lines to ornament a single important note, demonstrate that Cole isn’t using South Indian music casually.

The rest of the musicians on Seasoning The Greens all stick to more familiar instruments, except for Cooper-Moore, who plays a variety of homemade noisemakers. But their contributions are very much in the spirit of the project. Percussionists Warren Smith and Atticus Cole, especially, deserve credit for playing convincingly on beats from all around the world, and saxophonist Sam Furnace plays so sensitively that it’s often hard to distinguish his alto from whatever nonwestern instrument Cole is playing. Seasoning The Greens is a winner from start to finish – Cole is backed by an enthusiastic and empathic band, and his understanding of the nonwestern music that inspired this project pushes it just to the left of any other free jazz you’ve heard.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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