Michael Marcus | Lotus Symphony | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2008 | MW 807-2 | CD

Michael Marcus – Bb clarinet | Antoine Roney (#3) – tenor sax | John Austria (#1,8) – piano | Radu ben Judah (#1,2,5,7 – bass | Rashaan Carter (#3,4) – bass | Taru Alexander (#1,3,5) – drums | Jay Rosen (#2,4,6,7) – drums

All compositions by Michael Marcus – Marmisun Publ. – ASCAP. Recorded in New York City on March 8 and March 25, 2008 at Tainted Blue Studios. Recorded, edited and mastered by Eric Enjem. Produced by Michael Marcus. Executive producer: Marek Winiarski for Not Two Records. Cover art by Marmisun Productions. Photos by Krzysztof Penarski (front), Rosie Shakarian (inside)

Tracklist: 1. As Always, Our Blessings [09:26] 2. Seal Rock – Bird Rock (trio) [06:37] 3. Peace People Theme [06:56] 4. Elypsis [04:40] 5. Sumatra [08:46] 6. Seal Rock – Bird Rock (duet) [03:50] 7. Lotus Symphony [06:12] 8. As Always, Our Blessings (reprise) [01:08]

Lotus Symphony – a serene pool where a forest of sound can exist, because the artists have committed to coming together, symphonically, in the rhythms of light where the tradition of American Improvised Music has no bounderies, celebrated and thus the special bloom occurs. Special thanks: to all the musicians who contributed their artistry in making this recording come to life. Eric Enjem and to Marek Winiarski at NotTwo Records. — Michael Marcus, August 2008

Downtown multi-reeds wiz  Michael Marcus

has been concentrating on B-flat clarinet only on his past few discs. This is good thing since Mr. Marcus just gets better and better on his clarinet. Starting with “As Always, Our Blessings”, Michael plays exquisitely and spiritually with strong piano, bass and drums around him. Somewhere in between Andy Statman and Ben Goldberg, Michael plays his clarinet most expressively, his solo here is just right. “Seal Rock – Bird Rock” is done as a duo and a trio with the great Jay Rosen (Trio X) on drums. Jay’s cymbal playing is especially fine on both versions. Again, Michael’s sly clarinet solo is something go behold. Three of these pieces feature a different rhythm team who are also truly fine. On “Peace People Theme”, Michael is joined by Antoine Roney on tenor, both men swirl around one another in righteous tandem with a strong solo from Antoine. I dig the delicate sound of “Elypsis” with a long, inspired, playful (soprano sax-like) solo from Michael. The title track, “Lotus Symphony” is another calm yet inspired piece with a most enchanting theme and superb solo from Mr. Marcus. Over the past decade we’ve seen/heard more folks concentrating on the clarinet. On “Lotus Symphony”, we find that Michael Marcus is one of the best clarinetists around. — BLG, Downtown Music Gallery

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2 thoughts on “Michael Marcus | Lotus Symphony | Not Two Records

  1. A criminally under-sung multi-instrumentalist, Michael Marcus’ collaborations with Ted Daniel, Frank Lowe, and Sonny Simmons over the past two decades have yielded some of the most enduring and adventurous sounds in modern jazz. A soulful stylist on soprano, alto, and baritone saxophone, Marcus is also an advocate of the more esoteric members of the saxophone family, such as the manzello, stritch, and saxello (all originally popularized by Rahsaan Roland Kirk).

    Lately however, Marcus has abandoned doubling in order to focus solely on the clarinet, recording with it exclusively for the first time on The Magic Door (Not Two, 2006) and most recently on Golden Atoms (Soul Note, 2008). Assisted by a rotating cast of players for his newest venture, Lotus Symphony features Marcus’ clarinet in a variety of settings, alternating personnel line-ups from tune to tune. From freewheeling duets to adroitly arranged quartets, Marcus’ supple woody tone and nimble phrasing serve as the date’s focal point.

    Where most multi-instrumentalists use the clarinet to provide timbral shading or evocative nostalgia, Marcus explores the instrument’s nuanced tonality over a four octave range, revealing an array of emotion and sonic depth. Nowhere is this more prominent than on “As Always, Our Blessings” which opens the album with the regal modal grandeur of mid-period Coltrane. Marcus extracts stirring fragments from a bittersweet melody, soaring over the modulated comping of pianist John Austria, transforming the tune into a timeless meditation that frames bassist Radu ben Judah’s sinewy arco solo.

    Marcus revels in the strident, clarion quality of his instrument; “Seal Rock – Bird Rock (duet)” pits Marcus against drummer Jay Rosen in a vivacious duet—a roiling vortex of keening circuitous cadences and scintillating percussive accents. “Peace People Theme” finds the clarinetist in a rousing dialog with muscular tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney, as bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Taru Alexander set up a fulminating undercurrent for the two horn players to navigate.

    “Sumatra” offers a dynamic study in contrasts, veering from languid to vigorous. Beginning with an opulent melody and lilting rhythm, the tune undergoes a dramatic transformation at the halfway mark; Judah and Alexander kick the leisurely rhythm into brisk double time, inspiring Marcus to his most fervent playing of the set.

    Marcus reveals a sentimental side on “Elypsis.” Pirouetting effortlessly between the chalumeau and altissimo register, Marcus maintains complete control, unveiling elegant variations on a winsome melody with tasteful restraint and a masterful technique.

    From the spirited to the soothing, Lotus Symphony offers a diverse and compelling journey. Expanding the conceptual reach of one of the woodwind family’s oldest members, Marcus joins the ranks of such visionary jazz clarinetists as Don Byron, John Carter, Jimmy Giuffre, and Perry Robinson.

  2. Michael Marcus is a multi-instrumentalist who has shown mettle on the manzello, the stritch, the saxello, as well as the alto, baritone and soprano saxophones and the clarinet. He has recently been gravitating towards the clarinet and has played solely on the Bb clarinet on Golden Atoms (Soul Note, 2008) and here on Lotus Symphony.

    The high mark of this release is the way in which Marcus balances improvisation and composition. This is done through a shifting line-up which gives each tune a character of its own. Marcus’ vision directs each path, showing that he is more than capable of taking sideward leaps, yet culminating each composition into a satisfying journey.

    Marcus is particularly strong in the company of tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney on “Peace People Theme.” Roney is a robust player, one who is always on the go and looking for the new. The composition is loosely structured which gives Marcus and Roney the room to converse and spar after bassist Rahsaan Carter has set up the pulse. Marcus weaves lithe lines in and around the tenor sax, his flex constantly bouncy but also has the ability to use the upper register adding sinew. Roney essays the melody and changes the dynamics with innate power while Taru Alexander’s drumming cannot go unnoticed as he drives the beat and fills it with high energy. Put all these elements together and what comes off is a highly entertaining tune.

    “Sumatra” has a compelling melody where Marcus drinks deeply from its fount and immerses himself into the sweetness. It would have been easy for Marcus to sustain the feeling but he adds more than a couple of impactful notches with the use of light swing and shifting timbre. His performance not only nails the moment, but enlarges it. The latter attribute can be applied to the album as a whole, making Lotus Symphony a worthwhile listen.

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