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Daniel Carter and Rueben Radding - Luminescence

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Artist: Daniel Carter and Rueben Radding

Album: Luminescence

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Feb. 16, 2003

Bright Moments Suffuse Bass/Sax Summit

Anonymity comes as a consequence of choosing creative improvised music as a profession. It’s a reality that most who make the decision come to terms with early on and perhaps as a natural extension of the idiom itself, where patience and humility are prerequisites for success. Still, the truth can take a toll even on the most resilient and ambitious musical mind. For every Ken Vandermark and Cecil Taylor, who have established spotlight status in the admittedly narrow niche, there are a dozen Daniel Carters busking on the fringes. Countless players have succumbed to the pressures, packed up their horns, and shouldered the yoke of a full time day job. But rather than balk or be creatively hindered by his comparatively low profile, Carter himself continues to solider on, sustained by his stalwart passion for playing.

Bassist and Seattle-transplant Reuben Radding, former frontman of the Sun Ra-influenced Myth Science ensemble (and as of this writing back under Big Apple skies), recognized a kindred spirit in Carter and made it his mission to facilitate his friend’s first visit to the Pacific Coast. Radding organized a handful of concerts and studio dates in the Fall of 2001 to commemorate the occasion, and he came away from the experience profoundly changed. Carter’s been carving out a singular sound and vision for decades, from his mid-seventies scuffling as part of the Music Ensemble with future free jazz fulcrums Billy Bang and William Parker (check out their self-titled disc, reissued on the Roaratorio label, for a taste), to his current subterranean sorties as one-quarter of the guerilla-improv unit Test. Along the way, he’s shirked chances at leading bands, instead placating his simple and burning desire to blow. Airline baggage restrictions resulting from the tragic events of September 11th required him to reduce his usually formidable horn arsenal down to a single alto sax. Forced frugality reveals a fundamental certainty – it’s not the instruments, but the intellect and breath behind them, that provides the tinder for memorable music to ignite.

The first four cuts here are culled from a concert at the Earshot Jazz Festival, while the final three come from a studio session two days later with the fidelity slightly more crystalline in cast. Radding bows broad, somber swathes on the opening “You and I Are Disappearing,” adding rich harmonic color against Carter’s limpid legato phrasings. Bow sheathed and fingers flexed on “Ancestral Voyage,” Radding plumbs the lower recesses of his fingerboard as bulbous clusters of notes spill forth from the strings, contrasting hypnotically with Carter’s pinched-pitch lines. What follows ranks as some of the saxophonist’s most lyrical and economical playing on record. Only the closing cut “Occurences, Places, Entities and the The Sea,” takes a leap into full-fledged dissonance. Eschewing volume and velocity for a near methodical melodicism, his tone references an almost Lee Konitz-like cool, dancing in expressive circles along the upper register edges of his horn.

Radding thrums right alongside, riffing off a rhythmic center that keeps the music moving forward. While it’s almost immediately obvious that he has technique to spare, he avoids ostentatious playing and instead often practices a less-is-more philosophy. Nearly everything about pair’s colloquy exhibits an organic simplicity that belies the substantial amount of listening, prowess and stamina that’s feeding into their tandem conversation. The duo makes rather modest use of extended techniques on pieces like “Refracted Light and Grace” and “Blessing the Ride,” where Radding stitches a strong harmonic lattice of arco strands against Carter’s false register flutters, but these interludes are comparatively brief, and are outweighed by an often startlingly reflective pathos in the playing. Nothing sounds rushed or needlessly cluttered by artifice or conceit. The music therefore feels able to swallow listeners whole for nearly three quarters of an hour and deposit them spiritually scrubbed and refreshed at the regrettably inevitable terminus.

Fortunately, there’s even more to be heard on Language, a second meeting released on the Origin label, celebrating the duo with drummer Gregg Keplinger added to the action. Expanded to trio dimensions and with the added kinetic drive of drums the dynamics shift in colorful and exciting ways. The resultant music ends up no less absorbing, and both documents deserve to be heard and appreciated by audiences on a broad scale. Carter and Radding (and Keplinger for that matter) are musicians that weave soundscapes of wide creativity and emotional impact. These documents of their West Coast summit submerge any claim to the contrary under a cleansing flood of sonorous sounds.

By Derek Taylor

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