Chris Searle reviews Erica Lindsay and the Alchemy Sound Project: Further Explorations (ARC 2666)
SOME decade or so ago in a second-hand record shop in Toronto, I came across an album led by the San Francisco-born (in 1955) saxophonist Erica Lindsay.
Dreamer, it was called (Candid CD 79040), cut in March 1989 in New York City, and it was full of fire and artistry, led by a hornwoman who was described in the album’s sleeve notes by Nat Hentoff in these terms: “Erica is protean. That is she composes, she arranges, and she plays tenor, soprano, flute and clarinet. She has a distinctive clarity and fullness of sound as well as an acute sense of dynamics.” He was right too, that’s for sure.
So when I saw that the makers of the 2016 album Further Explorations was a co-operative ensemble called the Alchemy Sound Project including Erica, I cottoned on to it immediately.
Her band mates are brother saxophonist Salim Washington, with Samantha Boshnack on trumpet and flugelhorn, trombonist Willem de Koch, Sumi Tonooka playing piano with David Arend on bass and drummer Max Wood.
Lindsay’s early years were spent in Europe where her parents were teachers, and when she was 15, she studied with another brilliant US musician in Europe, the percussive pianist Mal Waldron.
“He’s a very strong influence,” she said. “He showed me a whole way of approaching composition. From Mal, I got a sense of freedom, so that composition becomes a feeling process, not thought process.”
As she grew older, John Coltrane had a huge impact upon her music. “What impressed me,” she declared, “was that every player was equal” when Coltrane blew, and now 25 years after the recording of Dreamer, that same sense of equality and unity radiates from the Alchemy Sound Project.
The opener is Charcoal, Clear, Beautiful All Over, prefaced by Tonooka’s crystalline piano and Washington’s delving bass clarinet. It’s Washington’s tune and his solo is lucidly beautiful before Erica’s tenor adds another dimension.
On Lindsay’s album title tune, Washington plays alto flute and Arend’s deep, quasi-subterranean bass pulsates below the reeds. Erica’s tenor sounds lonesome, almost ominous.
Alchemical is a Boshnack composition but it is Tonooka’s chiming keys and Wood’s resonant drums that mark its beginning, before Lindsay’s vibrant tenor chorus.
Then comes Waiting and it is Tonooka’s turn for tune-making. Either Washington’s or Lindsay’s burning tenor is at the track’s centre, before Washington’s flying flute sees it out.
Lindsay’s second album piece is the promenading Beta with Arend’s sauntering bassline and Tonooka’s bustling piano dynamics that carry the tune forward.
Arend is the Sound Project’s fifth member to show his composition skills on the album, taking his Her Name is Love from a work by Leos Janacek, and creating repeated cadences which fall away repeatedly with a transient beauty.
His second piece, Archetype follows directly after with Boshnack’s soft-focussed horn leading the solos before Lindsay’s rolling saxophone and Tonooka’s scurrying piano.
This is an album with a powerful sense of musical unity-in-artistry with no dominating figure, a feature emphasised during the ensemble that begins Boshnack’s Divergency.
Her horn sings out all the way to Tonooka’s Joie de Vivre, where there is a subliminal sense of concord. Wood’s drums crash behind Tonooka’s keys, there is a Lindsay saxophone surge and Arend’s pounding bass jumps behind Washington’s flickering oboe, and all the way through there is the musicality of sheer elation of being able and privileged to be making such sound together.
The finale is Washington’s tune The Call, which very strangely reminded me of the old second world war song that Vera Lynn used to sing, Now is the Hour. Boshnack and Tonooka have fiery solos, but it is the total effect of the band that carries the power, its unremitting sonic solidarity: a memorable record.