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Album of the moment

by reception
posted 17/07/2014

Manhattan Moonrise – The Microscopic Septet

In 2006, after fourteen years spent in the wilderness, the Microscopic Septet bounded back onto the stage to coincide with the re-release of several of their albums. For years regarded as one of the most important and distinctive bands to come out of the New York scene of the 1980s, they entertained audiences with their combination of swing, energy and humor, which Downbeat described as ‘seminal, brilliant post-modern jazz.’

microscopic

Innovation and experiment has been at the heart of ‘the Micros’ music since the beginning, so is it really a surprise that their new album comes to us via the increasingly popular avenue of crowd-sourcing? Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, the Microscopic Quartet are releasing their first album of original compositions in 25 years: Manhattan Moonrise.

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Manhattan Moonrise touches on the band’s entire three and half decade history, with several previously unrecorded tunes from the Micros’ early years, like Forrester’s lushly orchestrated “No Time,” which sounds like a catchy back page from Cedar Walton’s songbook. Johnston’s brief but scorching “Obeying The Chemicals” is another early piece, a deliciously telegraphic booting barrelhouse romp. And then there’s the new work, like Forrester’s episodic Beethoven-inflected closer “Occupy Your Life.”

Whatever the music’s vintage, it shares the unmistakable Micro stamp, a convivial marriage of ingenious craftsmanship and extroverted improvisation. If the band has a patron saint, it’s clearly Thelonious Sphere Monk, whose presence is manifest in the Micros’ cagey humor, harmonic syntax and hurtling rhythms. In much the same way that Monk’s music existed apart from contemporaneous bebop, drawing directly on Ellington and Harlem stride piano while inhabiting its own avant-garde zone, the Micros are avid students of jazz history but unburdened by revivalist notions.

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