Kevin Norton‘s creativity has always kept intact the characteristics of jazz not influenced by business instincts. Freedom of self-expression and compositional rigor (of the flexible variety) are directly proportional; occurrences where a chamber feel emerges from the interplay are not infrequent. In his brand new Bandcamp archival site, the percussionist and composer offers digital reissues of albums previously released on his own Barking Hoop label, and recordings never heard before. Such is the case of The Aquarius Suite, originally conceived as a kind of concerto featuring pianist Angelica Sanchez. The latter is joined by Norton on vibraphone and drums, John Lindberg on bass, Dave Ballou on trumpets and David Bindman on tenor and soprano saxophones. This version was recorded at the legendary The Stone (New York, 2005).
The record provides various interpretative possibilities, rich as it is in reflective environments and wide spaces, but also in harmonic refinement and particular accents not immediately discernible by the average “jazz fan”. In the long opening track “Aquarius Rising (Theme) And Discretion” a non-syrupy lyricism unfolds through foundations of impulsive swinging, the musicians carefully positioning their instinct inside the sonic flow while supporting the partners’ individual soloism. A sense of communion materializes, a manifestation of collective existence evidenced by diversified jargons. Ballou’s trumpet is the lone voice that seems to express a dissent of sorts toward a potential serenity, at one point turning identifiable geometries into rather stubborn statements. Elsewhere, the quieter parts in “Benevolence” spell the mute words of an elegant melancholy, whereas “Saturn Nebula” is a duet for piano and vibes mostly in 5/8, minimalist in essence, stimulatingly atonal in several of its passages. “Mysticism” starts out as a murmured invocation, then becomes a receptacle of contrapuntal angularity, ultimately returning to the silence from which it had arisen.
A top-notch performance by artists aware of both themselves and the whole. Ears hungry for seriousness cannot ask for more.