Jay Rosen Quartet | CIMP Records
Canticles for the New Millennium
By Walter Horn

One thing that often distinguishes great works of art from lesser specimens is a willingness by the creator(s) of the former to go for the throat and not let go until everyone's face is blue. In his first recording session as a leader, drummer Jay Rosen has turned in a homicidal maniac of a disc. His decision to dispense with a bassist on this outing renders the resulting music pleasantly transparent in spite of the often blinding speeds and dizzying counterpoint.

According to the notes provided, Vinny Golia sticks exclusively to a variety of clarinets, but, based on the sonorities he produces, I'm not sure that information is accurate. He opens the disc with some ominous growls on bass clarinet that trumpeter Paul Smoker morphs into a deep-throat brass restatement before Golia steals it back again. Those two chameleons play this "Guess who"? Game superbly during this chugging tune. The second piece is a short drum solo that provides a respite before the blistering (and cutely titled) "Ah Stenato". It begins unpromisingly, with Rosen kicking a 4/4 funk beat and Whitecage bleating out some urban-trash-talk lines on alto. There are a couple of awkward minutes when one wishes for a guitarist with a wah-wah pedal, but before you can get up enough mojo to scream "Whad I say"? you'll notice that the whole proceeding has gone absolutely berserk. Rosen's transition out of 4/4 into something more unpredictable and deranged is seamless: it's as if his anti-psychotic medicine gradually wore off before he realized what was happening.

Smoker's commentary on Whitecage's alto swaggering gets increasingly bellicose until Golia joins in on what sounds like a sopranino saxophone, and the real hostilities begin. When, at about the 8-minute mark, a couple of frantic Morse code messages emanate from the woodwinds, I took it to be an emergency plea to the U.N. Secretary-General for peacekeeping forces. But for good or ill(good, I think) cooler heads do not prevail. Rosen's late solo seemed to me like a wounded helicopter surveying a battlescarred field. The tune ends with a fading repetition of a mournful phrase by a high woodwind. It evokes the horror and sadness that one would expect when a humane civilization contemplates the damage that can result when destructive forces are unleashed. It's wonderfully affecting.

The disc closes with "Smokin' Valves" which, like the opener, is improvised to one of Rosen's bustling conga concoctions. But unlike the slower-starting "Intro Please", the players are ready to rumble on this one right from the opening bell. It sizzles with equatorial temperatures from the moment Rosen kicks the bass clarinet storm warnings out of its way. The shifting alliances created and then broken by various wind combinations, as each player moves from coordinated background component to front man or independent commentator and back again, rival the internecine mess on television's "Survivor". Through it all, Rosen bashes away unmercifully, providing the natural elements with which these competitors/friends have to reckon in order to thrive.

Like nature, Rosen's drumming may be hard on the weak or unwary, but it includes in ample measure all that his strong and savvy sidemen need to prosper. It's like millennial manna, not from heaven, but from the deepest reaches of our own fearsome world.