Blue Buddha – Blue Buddha [TrackList follows] – Tzadik TZ 4010, 53:15 [8/21/15] ****:
(Louie Belogenis – tenor saxophone, producer; Dave Douglas – trumpet; Bill Laswell – bass; Tyshawn Sorey – drums; John Zorn – executive producer)
We owe a big thanks to John Zorn. If it wasn’t for Zorn, we wouldn’t have the adventurous quartet known as Blue Buddha, which consists of trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Bill Laswell, drummer Tyshawn Sorey and tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis, who is the leader and producer of this project, out now on the Tzadik label’s Spectrum Series. All four musicians have strong ties to the New York City free-jazz/improv scene. The self-taught Belogenis had enduring relationships with drummers Rashied Ali and Sunny Murray. Douglas has led various groups and performed with numerous likeminded musicians. Laswell’s background covers almost every musical genre, not just jazz, and he has worked with artists such as Pharoah Sanders. And Sorey has become the go-to percussionist for several similarly-slanted players including Myra Melford, Steve Lehman and Pete Robbins.
The Blue Buddha quartet had its genesis when Belogenis and Douglas were part of a larger ensemble Zorn put together for a curated event. Douglas and Belogenis knew each other but had not seen each other for years. Belogenis says, “There was an amazing hookup. We both heard and felt it…we were developing a musical language and having a real exchange of ideas.” The two later independently told Zorn about that evening’s alchemy. Zorn understood the opportunity, suggested Laswell and Sorey, and the result was an early 2015 recording date and this self-titled, 53-minute album of all new music.
The seven tracks, which stretch from over 12 minutes in length to just under four minutes long, are grounded in Belogenis’ Buddhism: he has been an active Buddhist for more than four decades. He regards his meditative practice as fundamental to his performances. Belogenis states, “I try to have my music reflect…peacefulness; the sincere desire to overcome obstacles and remove impediments.” Belogenis cites John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Sanders as influences for that kind of direction. Those musicians created music which ranged from contemplative to chaotic and the Blue Buddha foursome follows a parallel path.
Laswell, Belogenis, Sorey and Douglas commence on the 12-minute, invocation-inclined “Purification,” which has a spiritual and spacious aspect. Belogenis’ tenor sax plays off against Douglas’ trumpet, while Laswell layers an effects-speckled electric bass underpinning as Sorey utilizes cymbals, light percussive taps and ambient rhythmic embellishments. During “Purification,” there are hints of European avant-garde music, and it has a beautifully explorative approach, even as the piece intensifies to a resounding conclusion. “Renunciation,” which clocks in at 8:11, has an analogous affinity for expansive freedom. The performance escalates eventually into a fiery form where Douglas’ trumpet and then the tenor sax reach for the stratosphere while Laswell furnishes some unique melodies and harmonies, and Sorey responds with some remarkable, rapid rhythmic excursions.
Free jazz or free improv is the norm on other, tougher pieces. The shortest cut, “Wrathful Compassion,” is four minutes of harshly harmonized material, with Laswell’s distorted and buzzing bass seething underneath a sax and trumpet fusillade. Laswell’s heavy metal music tendencies (hear his band Praxis as an example) come to the forefront on this clamorous tune. There’s an unhurried but equally unfettered feel to the Buddhist-tinted “Double Dorje.” The title refers to a Sanskrit word connoting a thunderbolt and diamond. Essentially, a double dorje is a type of club with a ribbed, spherical head at one end and—if crafted as a weapon—has a sharp point at the other end for stabbing. Listening to “Double Dorje” one can hear sax and trumpet used as auditory weapons, with slices and thrusts from both horns. There’s also sharpness to the bruising but at times tender “Diamond Vehicle,” where Sorey’s adroit drumming and the twinned horns provide an unconventional but engaging aura. Laswell’s perspiring bass adds an impromptu edge. At times, Belogenis recalls Pharoah Sanders, while Douglas supplies some of his most blistering lines. Laswell’s bass sound throughout “Diamond Vehicle” is deep, nearly as reverberant as a cavern, while Sorey’s athletic drumming and the horns obtain a higher platform of tonal qualities. There is also a cave-like timbre heard on the closer, “Lineage,” a sensitive Belogenis and Sorey duet. While Belogenis presents a mix of single-note flourishes and imaginative and imagistic chords, Sorey mingles Asian and East Indian percussive effects. As the seven-minute track progresses and quickens, Sorey shifts to rolling toms and weightier beats and the tenor sax attains a Coltrane-esque authority. Blue Buddha should be heard and experienced by those who are followers or devotees of the 1960s and 1970s NYC loft jazz scene; who want to investigate an excellent post-Sanders undertaking; or who gravitate to outsider jazz music.
TrackList: Purification; Double Dorje; Renunciation; Truth of Cessation; Wrathful Compassion; Diamond Vehicle; Lineage.