One could spiral into a frenzy trying to define this music let alone trance its influences, although at first blush it owes much to the stratospheric wanderings of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. But is it jazz so polyrhythmic that a clear, regular beat rarely emerges, or composed music that delegates much of the creative work to the players? Mark Fox is hardly the first composer inspired by aleatoric freedom and African drumming patterns. Clearly, Fox is not the first saxophonist to take his music there. In the decades since Coltrane famously traversed these paths, which Sanders continues to do so today, there have been others. However, few saxophonists play with the restrained authority of Mark Fox.
Discarding the obvious differences in musical topography and generation Mark Fox has, in fact, inherited much of his mentors’ sound world. This is music that Coltrane and Sanders could have written. And although this music on Eight Octaves Above The Sun reveals Fox’s debts to previous masters such as Coltrane, it is also Fox’s distinctive way of rendering material of his own. The track ‘Three Octaves Above The Sun’, the centrepiece of this performance is a scorer of vibrant design whose rhythmic vivacity and thematic unfoldings are matched by an atmospheric sense of sonority. In ‘Memories of Ghosts’ the first thoughts are of Albert Ayler. The song also lives up to its title in the way the thematic images evolve throughout the piece. The metamorphoses are subtly achieved, with many cross references and tweaks that add fresh resonance to Ayler’s ‘Ghosts’. This is true also of ‘Walk Spirit Talk Spirit’.
The Mark Fox Quartet and its guests are a formidable gathering of musicians. Their collective work explores the definition of Fox’s composition process as well as the manner in which creative responses to each of the songs emerge in improvised soli. A different performer line-up might not have achieved such dramatic results. But there’s no question whose musical sensibility is in charge. Just so, though, the music is structurally determined by its orchestration, which seems to have these very players in mind. ‘Bamako Nights’ with the ethereal beauty of Awa Sangho’s vocals is an absolutely mesmerising way to bring this magnificent performance to a close.
Track List: Invocation; Guinean Proverb; One For JC; Eastern Lullaby; Coltrane Recollections; Three Octaves Above the Sun; Memories of Ghosts; White Dog; Nature Boy; Walk Spirit Talk Spirit; Bamako Nights.
Personnel:Mark Fox: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, kamal ngoni; Stu Macaskie: piano (2 – 7, 9, 10); Kim Stone: bass (2 – 7, 9, 10); Tom Tilton: drums, percussion (2 – 11); Yolanda Bush: vocals (1, 2, 5, 8, 9); Felix Ayodele: guitar, background vocals (8, 11); Daniel Moreno: percussion, kamal ngoni (5, 8, 11); Jimmy Hopps (aka Jimmi EsSpirit): lap drums, vocals (5, 8, 11); Awa Sangho: vocals (11); Christopher Guillot: background vocals (11).
Label: Cherry Sound Records
Release date: July 2016
Running time: 1:10:21