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Human Feel - Welcome to Malpesta

Human Feel

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Album Review

Judging from some of the music on Welcome to Malpesta, this foursome must have moved from Boston to New York City for the coffee in addition to the artistic climate. When based in Beantown, they recorded a fine quintet disc for GM Recordings, but after losing their bassist and forging on as a New York-based quartet, they seem to have received an energy jolt from somewhere. And a flash of inspiration too. Welcome to Malpesta finds Human Feel taking a collective approach to music-making in ways only hinted at by Scatter, the band's GM CD. While reedmen Andrew D'Angelo and Chris Speed, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and drummer Jim Black all contributed compositions to Scatter and none of the four took more than their share of the spotlight, the presence of bassist Joe Fitzgerald (a fine bassist, actually) tended to give the band a more conventional structure. Here, in contrast, the idea of a four-way collective is fully realized deep within the architecture of the music. Welcome to Malpesta is paradoxical — simultaneously free and rigorously controlled, filled with hot soloing and yet absent typical soloist-accompanist roles. The musicians are in it together at each moment, even while each is off in an individual world of his own making. Saxophone, clarinet, electric guitar, and drums wail away in a variety of combinations, yet the overall intensity is carefully modulated and the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements are all shared property. The quartet also makes its togetherness explicit by skittering through impossibly tight and tortuously fast unison passages, as on D'Angelo's "Moods." D'Angelo contributes some of the CD's most agitated music, such as the crazed 7/8 repetitions of "Sich Reped" and stop-and-start "Undral Malpest Seam"; his melody line on "Sphasos Triem" careens all over the place with wide-interval leaps, as if musically sketching the New York skyline and frantic pace of city life. Although Human Feel was particularly adept at navigating up-tempo material, the band could step back from the fast and frenetic, as the lead-in to Rosenwinkel's dramatic "An Hour Ago" and some Speed's contributions ably demonstrate. The engaging mid-tempo groove and moody chamberesque improvisations of "Pith" and the evocative two-sax arrangement of the album-closing traditional "Yesterday I Passed" are good examples of Speed's restrained side. And his "Iceaquay" explores the place where contemporary classical music meets creative improvisation, featuring sustained reed and guitar lines that slowly unfold before staccato outbursts take over, fueled by Black's crisp percussion. Black is particularly noteworthy — his work here and on the first CD by Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio (recorded several months before) presaged a slew of albums that would establish him as one of the most exciting drummers in creative music. Without bassists, both Human Feel and Tiny Bell Trio threw a lot of responsibility on Black's shoulders, and he rose to the challenge, setting a new standard that few improvising drummers could match. But Welcome to Malpesta foreshadows killer music from all four band members, who would go on to record one more Human Feel album (Speak to It), lead their own ensembles, and also appear in groups led by the likes of Douglas, Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, and Matt Wilson. During the remainder of the decade and into the next, elements of Welcome to Malpesta echoed through the music of Tim Berne's Bloodcount, Speed's yeah NO quartet, and Jim Black's Alasnoaxis band. These guys were jolted after their New York arrival all right, and whatever inspiration they received was not only heard on Welcome to Malpesta, but also carried through a good many CDs to follow.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The members of Human Feel attended music schools in Boston and recorded the album Scatter on Gunther Schuller's GM Recordings label. Losing bassist Joe Fitzgerald, the Beantown quintet continued on as a New York-based foursome, reaching a peak of activity during the mid-'90s as the musicians all became mainstays in the city's so-called downtown jazz scene. Saxophonists Chris Speed and Andrew D'Angelo, drummer Jim Black, and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel recorded two more Human Feel albums as a collaborative...
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Human Feel - Welcome to Malpesta, Human Feel
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