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Album Review

Plake is a tenor saxophonist with a big, brawny sound, plenty of technical agility, and an abundant imagination. His quartet moves within the flexible bounds of the post-Ornette Coleman avant-garde, but Plake uses free jazz convention as a general framework to contain his original and compelling music. The construction of his band is unusual in a sense; there aren't that many marimba/vibraphonists in free jazz. The precedent that comes to mind is Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch band, and certainly Plake's fondness for wide intervallic leaps would seem to indicate more than a passing familiarity with Dolphy's music. A more likely model on tenor would be Bennie Wallace circa 1979. But this music is far too original to rate comparison with another. While Plake can often be a gregarious, aggressive player, there's also a gentle ebbing and flowing to much of the band's work. The empathy they share results in some remarkably precise playing. Sections that are obviously improvised nevertheless come together in ways that sound almost composed; hence, this music coheres in a way that evades the best efforts of other — often excellent — free players. Marimba and vibe player Craig Fundyga plays with classical meticulousness, drummer Jeanette Wrate lends the music colorful momentum, and bassist Anders Swanson anchors the band while at the same time contributing melodically. Over the years, Vinny Golia's Nine Winds label has showcased very fine work by some little-known West Coast avant gardists; Bill Plake and company are among the most interesting of that lot.

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South, Bill Blake
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