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So Dig This Big Crux

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Album Review

The odd title of this album is taken from the lyrics to a Minutemen song, but the listener will hear a lot more Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell in Randy McKean's work than any punk band. Indeed, the recording is dedicated to the former and includes two pieces by the latter. McKean's compositions tend to be knotty, post-bop structures with an underlying sense of swing and good humor, much in the manner of his mentors. He chose trumpeter Paul Smoker's working trio as his backup band, which performs finely throughout; in fact, Smoker sometimes steals the scene with playing that's a bit more individual than McKean's. There's a quirky march ("Marchling"), a pointillistic, quiet number ("Haze"), and even a quasi-spiritual ("Wholly Roller"), each performed with panache. But even in 1991, when the album was recorded, there was a sense of treading on well-worn ground. "Wholly Roller," for example, sounds like nothing so much as a variation on Mitchell's "Old" from 1967. This is not to say that there isn't any enjoyable, even fine playing on this record; there is. But the hosannas that greeted it when first released seem more based in a fervent hope that McKean might be radically extending a beloved tradition rather than appreciating the album for what it is: a solid, somewhat derivative effort.

So Dig This Big Crux, Randy McKean
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