Michael Cooke


Black Hat Records, BH -1002

Michael Cooke, flute; alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones; bass clarinet, bassoon and percussion.

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a few virtuoso multi-instrumentalists like Michael Cooke, whose dedication and perseverance in the midst of tremendous competition rise substantially above more conventional offerings.  

In twelve finely honed compositions, the absence of strongly defined diatonic chord sequences yields improvisations of tremendous space and depth.   Cooke's rare ability to think "outside the box" reminds us that Jazz, in its best incarnation, is the sound of surprise. To be sure, Cooke's horizontal, tonal-center based approach reflects the influence of Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and other sonic innovators. However, these powerful forces have been internalized to the extent that Cooke sounds like no one else.

Highlights include "Head Bobbin," a wonderful, polyphonic piece whose bass clarinet countermelody provides a rock-solid pulse for the soprano saxophone's free invention. The close intervals on "Malevolence" yield a huge spectrum of contrasting effects; this is flute artistry of rare excellence. And the tremendously vocal tenor solo and contrasting tempi on "Neptune" communicate a powerful saga about the pursuit of creative art.

All in all, this is an excellent session.

by James D. Armstrong, Jr.

Editor, Music in Transition

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