Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Milton Marsh - 1975 - Monism

Milton Marsh 

01 "Vonda's Tune" (Part 1 Of "Earth Home Of The Mortals") 2:14
02 Community Music 6:43
03 Monism 8:49
04 Metamorphosis 5:57
05 Ode To Nzinga 7:18
06 Sabotage, 3 Preparations 9:15

1st gathering - July 3, 1973 at MEDIA SOUND, New York, N.Y. Monism was the only composition recorded at this session.

3rd gathering - May 23, 1974 at MEDIA SOUND, New York, N.Y. "Vonda's Tune", Community Music, Metomorphosis, Ode to Nzinga and Sabotage, 3 preperations were recorded at this session.

Milton Marsh alto saxophone, spoken word
René McLean alto saxophone
Joseph Ferguson alto saxophone
David Ware tenor saxophone
Bill Cody tenor saxophone
Reynold Scott baritone saxophone
Kamal Abdul Alim trumpet
Bubbles Martin trumpet
Frank Williams trumpet
Sinclair Acey trumpet
Bill Lowe trombone
Bill Campbell trombone
Charles Stevens trombone
Bill Davis tuba
Cedric Lawson piano
Don Pate bass violin
Greg Bandy percussion

Composer, arranger, saxophone player, flautist and educator Milton Marsh recorded Monism in New York in 1975, then the recording trail went cold for a decade. Not that he stopped being involved in music.

Marsh has been consultant to the National Center for Afro-American Artists at Roxbury, Massachusetts; director of music seminar at the Foundation for the Arts in Bermuda; visiting professor of Music at the State University College, Oneonta, New York; and professor of music and director of Afro-American Music Studies SUNY in Buffalo. So, he has by no means been away from music. But Marsh only recorded one more album, 1985’s Continuum, so Monism became very much a collectors’ item.

Now Monism has been re-released by Omnian Music Group, via Manufactured Recordings, for the first time in 40 years on vinyl — and for the first time ever on CD — offering a whole new generation an entry to the understanding of free jazz, which is at the heart of what Milton Marsh does.

Monism features some of the finest musicians living at that time, and uses varying combinations of players — sometimes “just” nine, and sometimes 17 including strings. The music was described by Vibration magazine as “intriguing and complex,” and that is a good way to sum it up. However, they forgot to add interesting, compelling and that the compositions — all Marsh’s — are beautifully arranged. The musicians on Monism include pianist Cedric Lawson, bassist Don Pate, saxophonist David Ware and percussionist Greg Bandy. All these artists went on to record several volumes of music in their careers, except for Milton Marsh.

“Vonda’s Tune” opens Monism with a horn solo, into which a rich mix of rhythms are introduced over the swing theme and textures and layers work their way to create a cohesive sound. The simple theme allows for a complexity in the arrangement, and on occasion as a variation in the theme itself. “Community Music” is a carefully crafted web of sound, with piano laying down several connected themes over the length of the piece, worked over by bass, percussion and brass. This is a free-rolling, freely played piece which is a delight. Everyone is involved and the beats range from crazy multi-plexus to a concerted swinging section introduced in the final phase, with a rollicking, sleazy undertone which then uses the piano to work back to the overriding theme. Glorious.

The title track to Monism begins with a lovely, soaring string section with strong classical overtones before the piano suggests a bit of naughtiness, a sort of “why don’t we try this, folks?” The whistles and percussion take up the offer, and they are off. A Sufi poem is read over the instrumentation by Milton Marsh himself, before the piece develops into an improvised, avant-garde explosion of the absolute highest degree. If you like free jazz, this track symbolizes a lot of what is best about it: Each player providing an interlude which stretches both them and their instruments, providing an insight into what can be achieved. The piece delves back to a swingy, rich, fully blast sound with big band overtones and a lustrous trumpet solo working its way through the sound walls. Wonderful, wonderful track.

There is a sense of the players forming a big band who, whilst their leader’s back was turned, decided to careen along slightly out of control and add mischievous little twists and tweaks to the swingy theme while almost losing control – but never quite doing so. Every so often, Milton Marsh brings back control before losing it again, yet throughout the anarchic interludes, everyone knows exactly what they are doing and when to bring it back. An amazing piano-led section works well with the bass, adding an accomplished and intuitive accompaniment whist the foundation work from the rest of the band is solid. It ends with a crashing, harmonious fugue – wonderful.

“Metamorphosis” is a deeply structured avant-garde composition with modal harmonies and rich, bottomless textures worked well over the more traditional structure. As ever, there are delicious treats interspersed and there is a surprise at around the four-minute mark, where dialogue develops between the horns and the rest of the musicians, resulting in what is definitely not a traditional arrangement. After this, the band goes to a swing feeling like nothing would melt in their musical mouths. There are essences of Ellington and big band here, as well as African rhythms and fracturing of the rhythm to weave intricate solos into the arrangements. The solos both fit in natural breaks but also include improvised elevated sections which demonstrate the class of musician used here.

“Ode to Nzinga” is African/Latin, and almost rocky at times. It begins heavy on the horns and the arrangement is more traditional than previous tracks perhaps — which takes nothing away from the musical development. The instrumentation is for piano, bass, drums, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, two trumpets and one trombone. There are solo sports for alto sax, piano and tenor sax. All the instruments create a sound through the piece, which is at once loose but also decidedly collaborative.

Monism closes with “Sabotage 3 Preparations,” and this is again a more traditionally flavored track with some great bass work under pinning exceptionally cohesive playing form the other musicians. It has some frantically paced bass lines weaving under the piano and percussion, which have a far easier time of it. It takes a while to get going but, once there, it propels along — taking the listener to the finale via solos from trombone, sax and piano. There is a section of almost indescribable loveliness towards the end, topped out by the trumpet wailing over the swinging rhythms. Absolutely bloody marvelous. It is a lovely, busy, musically hard working track to finish the album.

Monism speaks volumes about Milton Marsh’s early influences and the musical intuition his era gave him with references to big band, swing, free and avant garde, along with rhythms picked from Africa, Latin and solid straight jazz. The number of musicians means it can swing from quiet, softly whispered notes to full blast explosions and anything in between. The album is a musician’s intrigue, a multi-faceted shape which comes together to create a very acceptable form — one that wobbles, melds and melts itself into and out of various musical forms with ease. Incredibly interesting, and as relevant today as it was in 1975.