pfMENTUM

Formerly known as the MTKJ Quartet, the Empty Cage is Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet, wood flute), Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn), Paul Kikuchi (drums, percussion) and Ivan Johnson (contrabass). The four started playing together in 2002 (“horrible music”, Tiner remembers), and have progressively worked to free themselves from the worst clichés of jazz and free jazz, all the while showing due respect to major players such as Coleman and Braxton. This double CD presents two live sets captured in Los Angeles at the end of 2005. It sounds like a single-microphone recording, as there’s a sense of collective wholeness to the sound rather than a focus on individual instrumental nuances. Tiner is the most prominent soloist, his lines remaining comprehensible enough even for regular jazz fans, but certain frictions between Mears and Johnson are the real attention-catchers on the first disc. The second evolves into a different kind of interaction, with Kikuchi and Johnson laying down riffs over which Mears and Tiner (unconsciously?) evoke the sound of classic British jazz (are you listening, Harry Miller?). As the performance develops, the quartet seems to be searching for some kind of illumination that lies over the hills and far away. Two things detract from an otherwise successful album: the recording quality (I would really like to hear these fine players in a studio setting) and the double CD format. Editing it into a 60-minute single disc would have distilled the music instead of diluting it.

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