The music to this unapologetically Christian jazz suite is spectacularly good, the religiosity less so. We'll take the subjects in that order.
The Renolds Jazz Orchestra is an 18-member assemblage of highly polished musicians, the best known of which on these shores will be Randy Brecker, Adam Nussbaum, and Miroslav Vitous, the last of whom I'm exceedingly happy to see in print once again outside the ECM nest, having been entranced as a lad with his membership in Weather Report, simultaneously considering Mountain in the Clouds, a 1972 solo, to be one of the great jazz LPs. The RCO indeed acts as an orchestra but one the likes of which is only rarely heard, blending nearly every possible kindred mode into a breathtaking collage handled with consummate grace and daring. What the RCO is doing hasn't often been heard, though I'll liken it in passing to Anthony Davis' killer Ghost Factory and other neoclassically symphonic work. The blend of mid-Eastern sounds—Egyptian, klezmer, Arabic, Carnatic—is central to everything, with Helen Savari-Renold's vocals verging on the melismatic while delivering the Passion of the Christ in simplistic poetics (oft with clumsy grammatic inversions, though). Mrs. Renolds, married to sax player Fritz Renold, has a quicksilvery liquid voice tolling like a meadowlark calling the faithful to prayer from a minaret—slurring, trilling, gliding through sonic mosaics and desert sands, guiding the listener through a caravanserai.
Ceaselessly transmorphing in big band, atonal, trad jazz, neoclassical, and classical modes, the path of each player's lines is drop dead fascinating, a perpetual flux of innovation and variance. In the opening cut, Grave Intrigues, for instance, while following a trumpet line well into the composition, the accompanying tempo shifts before you even realize it. Switching attention to that, the symphonic background component then changes, and, ere long, it's obvious that Cube is going to be one long uninterrupted fest of extremely subtle and complex transfigurations, the only real consonance lying in intermittent brass orchestra sections, which themselves do not remain long static.
Everyone gets a chance to shine many times over in a profusion of entrancing solos; thus, no one grabs the light as a celebrity standout, not even the celebrities. If there's such a category as progjazz, and I'm not sure the pigeonhole exists, this is immediately one of its prime exponents. The disc is not really fusion per se, functionally going far beyond even that adventurous genre's boundaries in the most refined of ways, nor is it of the ilk of Strata Institute, Erkki-Sven Tuur, and the more outré ensembles, because there's so much in RCO's euphoric melting pot. Renold's voice is the least featured ingredient in the deleriously long concept work (71+ minutes!), which really could have incorporated her marvelously gymnastic stylings more fully—in more than one way, she's the emergence of a new Flora Purim. The absence of what should have been a more fulsome ingredient doesn't hurt the disc in the least, but a more prominent display could only have helped ever more generously atop manifold excellences.
Now the religious element. As an atheist ex-Catholic and present zenarchist, I'm more than familiar with the storyline here but do not in the least agree with it. What marks the falseness of Christianity is the cult's willful failure to recognize Jesus as an anarchist, though the fact is screamingly obvious in the Bible's own words. Beyond the Berrigan Brothers and a few others, I've yet to hear of or happen across a Christian who conducts his or her life as the Christ did. That "-ian" suffix at the end of the designation? It means "like". I see no Christlike Christians, not to any degree. They do not question authority nor do they educate much beyond reflexive conservatisms. Minions most certainly haven't the least inclination to tear into their own greatly wanting scripture, as Jesus did the Judaic tradition, the religious culture he was born into and then rejected from. Christians, in short, are not Christians; that's just a name now hideously corrupted. I have great affection for the example of Jesus and do not appreciate the diminishment thuswise of both his name and work.
Instead, what is reputed to be Christianity is just a perenial regurgitation of abnegative servility to a constantly docilized and docilizing mythology (if you're interested, it has its roots in Constantine and the Nicean Councils as versus the Qumran manuscripts, Dead Sea Scrolls and so on). The religion is a system of governance, not even faintly a celebration of spirituality. Whatever Jesus taught, and his lessons were excellent, is honored by Church and laity only in the breach, a sundering that never ends. Thus, may I credit the lyrics here, the motive? Not in the least, it's just another attempt at missionary work, tis time via art, though the music makes all that eminently ignorable, residing, as it does, on such a stellar plane, and to my ears an important work. However, it's the duty of a critic to analyze what's put before him, and I've now done that. One may easily embrace the brilliance of a truly artistic work without honoring the inaesthetic among its motives.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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