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FAME Review: Hamilton Sterling & Jimmy Haslip - Migration
Hamilton Sterling & Jimmy Haslip - Migration


Hamilton Sterling & Jimmy Haslip

Helikon Sound - 2005HE

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Well, I have to tell you that you only think you know Jimmy Haslip, bassist for the Yellowjackets. In his partnership with Hamilton Sterling, the daunting musician reveals a side no one quite suspected, co-writing and co-playing a highly engaging, wildly pastiched, very three-dimensional opus cohering multiple modes and styles into one segmented narrative that's vanguard progressive—in fact a continuo on what the electronic pioneers (Subotnick et al) and musique concrete and other wizards (Xenakis, Crumb, etc.) were sallying towards in their own times.

The Yellowjackets were an aspect of the jazz world which was fusing a good deal of emerging modernity into trad/trad-fusion baselines. How good were they? Well, I caught 'em at a JVC Jazz Fest opening for Miles Davis, and they were very very good. But they, Steps Ahead, Cassiopeia, Mezzoforte, Passport, and a small double handful of fusion bands were creating infectious hybrids in modes true artists can't help but wring from heightened sensibilities. Thus, per se, Migration shouldn't be as big a tectonic shift as it is. However, consider that even more exploratory sounds came forward and advanced under Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Loren Nerell, and others. Next came Vidna Obmana, Coma Virus, and the entire electronica scene—perhaps most intriguingly in the glitch mode, which is employed here as well. Toss in Aphex Twin, Orb, and assorted kindred, and you have a pretty rounded window. Migration weaves all that together and even harks back to Weather Report, updated (City of Light and Spiral, Dreams of Home).

Sterling's a musician but also a sound designer, a talent that's becoming increasingly important in several worlds, the proof of his skill lying in an omnipresent in-demand status because of his work in The Dark Knight, War of the Worlds, and Master and Commander. Then interpolate the fact that Haslip has recently been a member of Alan Holdsworth's band—AH being one of the most respected guitarists in the world, possessor of an inimitably singular vocabulary—and the possibilities inherent in the duo begin to gush forth.

Migration is quintessentially immersive and presented via audiophile matrixing in dual DVD form, one side a choice between 5.1 surround sound and PCM high-rez two-channel stereo, the other side strictly way high end 5.1 DVD-Audio surround sound (think Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and then some), also extremely high resolution. All three formats are prime headphone material. There are no visuals, Sterling's using DVD format only to encode Migration at the highest possible level. Thus, the completely sonic presentation of the disc is a combination of the painterly, the explosive, and the sublime, oft understated, enticing the imagination to interconnect more broadly.

An epigram ("Man could not stay there forever. He was bound to spread to new regions, partly because of his innate migratory tendency and partly because of Nature's stern urgency"—Huntington Ellsworth) foreshadows the transplanetary nature of the music, from Earth to the stars, and that's exactly what the listener undergoes, with many strange dimensional shifts along the way. The most salient elements of the disc are neoclassical and experimental, sculptures and pigments via notes and silences. More than a few passages reflect Eno and Jon Hassell's quirky ambientalisms and jungle strangeness. You'll also hear shades of John Serrie, Beaver & Krause, Wendy Carlos, and more than one influence from the hallowed electronische Nonesuch days of the 60s & 70s.

All those marvels to the side, myself having decades ago tasted the delights of a well set-up quadrophonic environment, later many times luxuriating in the surround sound version of Apocalypse Now at the Picwood in Westwood (Calif.), I suggest the reader indulge his or her hedonisms and play this disc in the fashion meant. Haslip and Sterling are doing for pure sonics what Cameron has done for visuals via Avatar. Evolution, ladies and gents.

Track List:

  • Senegal Suite (15:17)
  • Migration (8:17)
  • City of Light (9:05)
  • Sadness, Away (2:14)
  • City of Water (9:52)
  • Spiral, Dreams of Home (5:29)
All songs written by Hamilton Sterling and Jimmy Haslip.

Edited by: David N. Pyles


Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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