Cain/Epstein/Alessi: Circa (ECM 1622)

Circa

Michael Cain piano
Peter Epstein soprano and tenor saxophones
Ralph Alessi trumpet
Recorded August 1996 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Having heard Michael Cain through his associations with Jack DeJohnette, but not his session mates, avant-garde saxophonist Peter Epstein and trumpeter Ralph Alessi, I went into this album blind and emerged fully sighted. The influence of Charlie Haden, under whom the latter two both studied, lingers in “Ped Cruc” and “Egg,” each of which brings a watery current to the album’s classically inflected aesthetic, as well as in “The Suchness Of Dory Philpott” (a John Surman-inspired title if there ever was one). The soprano’s gorgeous sustains carry over into the title track, which, changing shape like a bubble on the wind, walks a fine edge between script and adlib. This same balance percolates through “Siegfried And Roy” and its later companion, “And Their White Tigers.” Both linger like an aftertaste, casting nets toward elusive memories of the night before. More postmodern meditations await us in “Social Drones” and “Top O’ The Dunes,” for which the trio offers tapas portions of alienation and playful distance. In such a context, humor retains a certain depth of hue, as realized in “Miss M.” Here more than elsewhere, the two horns dance, two birds of a feather, from branch to branch while the piano preens their nest in wait. What begins as a simple tune in unison turns into an intense free-for-all: the session’s highlight by far, set against the caresses of “Red Rock Rain” and earthen mixtures of staggered harmonies and pointillist speech acts in “Marché.”

Fans of Oregon and ECM’s earlier chamber jazz experiments (Gallery and the like) should feel right at home here. Newcomers, perhaps even more so.

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