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Gil Selinger: Press

Mysterium

"The first dics, Mysterium for Quintet(1) is one of the most enjoyable free jazz outings I've heard of late. This quintet of multi-talented artists draws on all their resources tapping into a deep vein of American music. Over the course of nine tracks, they touch on everything from Bird bop to bird songs. I suspect at least some of these were culled from longer improvisations, yet they have structural integrity as individual creations. Carter, Swell, Selinger, Murren and Eigner have their imaginations locked in step with each other, everyone responding to the other and taking turns instigating shifts in direction. Everyone shines, but there are no stars. Carter and Swell are a strikingly complementary front line with the trombonist's swoops and growls lending just the right color to Carter's sharp-edged horns. Each of the hornmen gets a feature- Carter on flute on the shimmering ornithological tone poem "Cockatoo" and swell on "Tousled Heads" a pugilistic duet with drummer Eigner. These brief features complement the ensemble work thats at the core of the session. Cellist Selinger has a knack for providing just the right countermelody under the horns. He ignites the up-tempo "Lit up Red at Night" with a buzzing arco line. On a couple of tracks he turns his attention to the organ. His organ work is central to "Rope a Dope" a rollicking outing shaped around an oompah organ and boom-chick drumming. (I don't know why but it occurs to me that the addition of organ was orchestration by chance. Was it just in the studio and the musicians decided to use it?) Eigner's grooves are precise and buoyant. Murren's bass seems to shadow the proceedings, at times sounding like its embedded in the drum kit.
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Featuring extended essays in improvisation, For Quintet is the ultimate example of truth in packaging. The bare-bones two-CD set includes nothing more than the performers’ names, instruments, tune titles and recording information.

While the sonic strength of the nine short tracks – on the first disc – and the almost 51-minute improv, which takes up all of CD two, eloquently speak for themselves, a bit of background is in order.

Briefly, Mysterium is comprised of a cross section of accomplished, New York-based players with experience in the jazz, free music, pop and so-called serious music fields. Veteran Daniel Carter, who plays trumpet, flute, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone here, has been a vibrant part of the scene for years, most prominently in TEST and the various projects of bassist William Parker. Trombonist Steve Swell, who leads or co-leads many combos, is also in Parker’s big band and works with associates such as saxophonists Gebhard Ullman and Sabir Mateen. Playing both acoustic and electric double bass, Terence Murren works in genres as different as Alt-Cajun and free improv. Gil Selinger, who plays cello, electric cello and electric organ has performed with and conducted the New York Soundpainting Orchestra and plays in string trios. Drummer and clarinetist Eric Eigner, a visual artist, is also part of the Soundpainting Orchestra.

Eigner’s visual arts background suggests the idea of large and small sonic canvases. For as vibrant as some of the interactive musical tinctures are on the nine tracks on disc it seems that Mysterium’s most impressive collective sound-painting is done on the large scale “Tomorrow is a Long Today”.

Still, considering the nine miniatures as preliminary sketches for the 51-minute aural image, reveals various techniques daubed onto the smaller canvases. Styles range from faux impressionistic to hard-edged modernism, while sfumato overlays churn these sometimes contrasting styles together.

For instance “Dancing the Galliard” is set up with pitter-patterning bounces from Eigner and intervallic leaps from Carter’s alto saxophone. Initially, Selinger sets the pace by first sounding a close cousin to “Blue Monk”, then double-stopping, triggered, screechy bass and organ impulses that underline the improvisations.

Swell’s or Selinger’s pumping organ lines on “Rope-A-Dope” resemble the Swing shuffles of Wild Bill Davis than anything more modern. Couple those sounds with the march tempo of Eigner’s drums, the vamping triplets from Carter’s trumpet and slurs from the trombone and the result appears almost circus-like.

Other tunes are borne along on double counterpoint walking from the two string players; or Murren’s sluicing electric bass runs and Selinger electric cello spiccato scratch with enough overtones to sound like two legit players. Blasting guttural tailgate tones from Swell mix it up with chromatic New Thing-like broken chords from Carter’s tenor saxophone, whereas elsewhere their duets encompass irregular grace notes and tremolo tonguing from the trombonist plus braying trumpet explosions from Carter. Meanwhile, Eigner ruffs, rolls and rebounds on his regular kit to match the saxman’s barnyard squalling or the boneman’s plunger textures.

However, just as French Impressionist Claude Monet and Surrealist Salvador Dali individually needed an immense canvas on which to respectively create masterpieces such as “The Waterlillies” and “Santiago el Grande”, so Mysterium needs something the length of “Tomorrow is a Long Today” to fully exhibits its collective talent.

Once the wiggling, polyphonic pitches and broken octave drops are absorbed into a concentrated, tremolo exposition, separate sections break apart, with clarinet glissandi, pitch-sliding burrs from the trombone and wide-spaced string sawing most noticeable. Switching to flute, Carter’s lines slide as Swell’s braying single notes ascend, then meet graduated unselected beats and staccato string patterning. It’s as if a classical string duo and a brass and drum aggregation are passing one another in a village square.

Soon what could be sputtering overtones of a roller-ring pipe organ seep into the aural miasma. Concluding every-which-way theme variations, the five then draw back for individual strokes: consistent staccato string bending from the cellist, lip vibrato daubing and exaggerated split tones from Carter’s alto saxophone; and concentrated drum bounces and rim shots. During the penultimate variant, contrapuntal brass vamps coalesce behind adagio interface between widely vibrated tenor saxophone lines and shrill cello harmonics. Finally the bubbling slurp of the electric bass and the drummer’s subtle beat introduce Selinger’s moderato melody plus Carter wavering saxophone obbligatos. But before the theme starts again, conclusive and repetitive polyrhythmic patterns from electric bass end the interface.

Improvisations from one day of intense and rigorous improvisation, the group inspiration is on show on large or small musical canvases here.
Ken Waxman - Jazz Word (May 24, 2007)
"...on some tracks like "who threw the blame?" and at times during the disc long "tomorrow is a long today" the tensions among all the genres rubbing shoulders in the music generate some genuinely novel moments, passages where the music doesn't sound much like anything else ever played."
The Mysterium project aims to bring together improvisors from differing backgrounds to work together in temporary alignments. "For Quintet", the fine second release under its aegis, has a vitality that suggests there is plenty of mileage here, not least because estimable wind multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter seems to be one of its fixed coordinating points. Also remaining from the first CD is drummer Eric Eigner, tight and funky or fragmented and freewheeling as occasion demands. They are joined by loose-limbed bassist Terence Murren, forthright trombonist Steve Swell and cellist Gil Selinger. Stretching out without sprawling on nine shorter tracks, the quintet convey the same quality of relaxed directedness on the 50 minute free improvisation that occupies the second CD of this satisfying set.
Eigner is a young drummer who, like Federico Ughi, has carved out a peripheral spot for himself in the hard-to-crack New York improv scene by starting a project with the indefatigable polymath, Daniel Carter and issuing recordings on his own label. It’s a strategy that, for both drummers, hasn’t resulted in world fame, but keeps hope alive that improv may have a future yet. In both cases music well worth hearing has been put down on disc.

For the new quintet recording, Eigner has given Carter heavyweight company in trombonist Steve Swell and has played up well to the challenge of having these two powers in front of him. (It’s one of Wittgenstein’s mysteries why Swell is not more famous. Outside the improv scene he is routinely ignored in favor of vastly lesser talents. His basic form is monumental, but that’s only the beginning. He has a range of extended techniques that puts almost all other players, on all instruments, to shame.)

Eigner’s drumming often provides the foundation for most of the group forays into structured improv and he chimes in fearlessly with wind-powered toys here and there for fun. Swell also weighs in on Hammond organ (who knew?) and this gives the recording some welcome change in texture and rhythm. The two-disc recording quality is superb and the long session has been gracefully edited into bite-size pieces on disc one, with a lengthy piece devoted to disc two.