|JazzReview.Com: “May I know all the sounds as my own sound. May I know all the lights as my own light. May I know all the rays as my own ray.” These words, from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, open Alex Cline’s latest Ensemble release, The Constant Flame, and serve as an invitation to the adventurous listener to embrace yet another fine release from LA-based Cryptogramophone Records.
Cline and the ensemble have created a work which can best be described as quiet passion. While there are moments of fire, as in the title track where guest Vinny Golia screams with energy over a fast walking bass line, the overall feel is one of pensive, quiet introspection.
Like his previous Cryptogramophone release, Sparks Fly Upward, the pieces on The Constant Flame are dedicated to musicians, composers, filmmakers and poets. Homage without direct imitation, the pieces often relate less to the artist’s work than they do to the spiritual effect they have had on Cline.
Cline is a masterful percussionist, and a composer who continues to expand his musical palette, incorporating new music, free improvisation, even an almost pop sensibility at times. The growth his writing has shown since his first Ensemble release, the 1989 ECM release The Lamp and the Star, is measured by a more diverse approach. From “Bridge (for David Sylvian)”, which contains the most overt song structure, to his improvised percussion solo, “Summoning Spirits (for Will Salmon)”, to the dark, brooding “A Wreath of Rain (to the memory of Krysztof Kieslowski)”, to the more frenetic title track, the one constant that pervades is a strong lyrical nature.
The Ensemble, along with the various guests, brings Cline’s compositions to life with grace and style. It is difficult to single out any one performer, as they are all essential; the Ensemble’s sound would be completely altered, were but a single musician to be substituted.
Attempts to label the music fail. There are elements of Avante to it, but it is more melodic, more rhythmic. The ensemble experiments with sound, incorporating ethnic instruments, including kantele, mbira, mridangam and djembe, to create an other-worldly sound which defies classification. Improvisation abounds, yet is cleverly cloaked in compositional structures which sometimes make it difficult to know where one ends and the other begins.
This is challenging music, yet strangely accessible. Each piece is an audio travelogue, a sonic landscape; the compositions have a cinematic feel to them with a strong visual sense of space.
Impeccably recorded by Rich Breen, and produced with an uncanny devotion to detail by Peter Erskine, The Constant Flame is another fine entry in the Cryptogramophone catalogue. Alex Cline and the Ensemble manage to create a sound that is wholly unique; challenging to the ear while, at the same time, pleasing to it. This is a recording that makes each subsequent listen a new experience; it rewards the listener by constantly revealing new relationships and new layers.