Saxophonist and multi-woodwind player Alex Coke and guitarist Carl Michel, leaders of the fascinating and passionately innovative - not to mention experimental and boundary expanding - Austin, TX based sextet bearing their name, enjoy lengthy and versatile resumes that uniquely cross-section at the late jazz vocalist Tina Marsh, creative director (and co-founder with Michel) of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra.
As tunefully compelling and provocatively passionate as Coke and Michel are, what makes this unit special as they mark their (quite literal) Emergence with their intriguing new album is the fresh and unexpected ways they complement their traditional jazz instruments with the concert harp (Elaine Barber), pedal steel guitar (Bob Hoffnar and vibraphonist Carolyn Trowbridge.
While the 12 track collection gets off to an inviting start with a mystically soulful, sax and harp driven meditation on John Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” the odd titles populating the set from there offer a clue as to the intricately cool sonic oddities they contain – starting with the haunting and spacious flute and vibe reflection “Rolling…the wind gusts up and the boats cast off for Troy” and the dark, moody “Bagetelle.” While the avant-garde core of Emergence lay in truly out there, psychedelic-y mind trips like “4 Mobile Structures Dedicated to Alexander Calder” and deep ambient hypnoses like “Locust Grove” and “Garden of Eden,” listeners seeking some instantly infectious gratification can find it in the fairly mainstream (but still, oddly and uniquely textured), sax driven “Mangled Tango.”
The name of the album seems to tease that this will surely not be the last time we hear from Coke, Michel and company. Lovers of jazz that pushes the proverbial sonic envelope will be grateful for that.