Salem Washington: Reviews
By Michael G. Nastos -- All Music Guide
For the scant few recording dates Salim Washington has been offered, there has been a sense that he portends to be the John Coltrane of now. His ribald yet strident tone on tenor has always marked him as one of the contemporary players who most closely resemble Trane. This CD of Washington's Harlem Arts Ensemble has them collectively assimilating Coltrane's Africa/Brass bands, employing various-sized ensembles ranging from eight to 12 pieces. Modalities are used liberally, spurred on by the wondrous piano playing of Donald Smith, most effective during the tick-tock rhythm informing joyous, chiming unison horns on the magnum opus for pianist Joe Bonner, "Maestro Joe." The opener, "Morning Is the Time for Miracles," also uses the modal approach in a desert caravan audio image, with Washington's flute and Smith's piano steadily leading three minutes of sheer beauty. At its most urgent, a 12-member band takes in a skyward Sun Ra-like hard bop funk for the title track, and "Stranded" modifies the modal style into a Latin-tinged "Afro Blue"-cemented composition. This is where harmonies and melodies become stretched and atonal, nodding to musicians who step outside conventional tunings. Washington also sounds influenced by peer bandleaders Charles Tolliver and Sam Rivers; the late Horace Tapscott ("Horace T" is Washington's modal ostinato tribute in 5/4 time); and, on his saxophone, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and Jackie McLean. Washington himself goes further down this microtonal route playing oboe on the short strut "Country Walk." There are completely free no-time sections and extensions, melancholic inserts, or, in the case of lone quartet selection "How Great Thou Art/Yes Lord," peaceful reverence to the spirit of God and, again, Coltrane. Great veteran soloists like trombonist Frank Lacy, woodwindist Henry Cook, and trumpeter Waldron Ricks pop up here and there. Groups like Tolliver's big band, the Spirit of Life Ensemble, and Washington's groups all compete in New York for the same few gigs, but clearly the Harlem Arts Ensemble are nipping at heels. This ensemble is loaded with potential, much of it realized on this fine effort.
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