The cover art to Individuation can't help but catch the eye, a combination of Aztec calendar, roulette wheel, Eskimo art, and what kinda looks like, on the outer ring, an extended circular keyboard, it's an intriguing piece that can only indicate one of three musical genres: progrock, jazz, or very hip New Age. Well, even though saxist Michael Eaton displays headily progressive chops, this isn't prog, and it sure as hell ain't New Age, so that leaves jazz, which it most certainly is. Eaton is in fact a protégé of the esteemed Dave Liebman, who appears in three cuts on this outing. And Mike learned a lot from Dave, as he can stand very strong with the guy, Guru unmistakably showing muscularity before Dave even cuts into the disc two songs later. Eaton displays both the lyricality and outside edginess Liebman has always been prized for and this sets up the anticipation for Liebman's arrival.
In that same song, pianist Brad Whiteley also shines, and I'm damned if I can place his influences, as the guy changes up all the time, from seriality to jagged contours to flowing improv, even trotting out some Cageian prepared piano. What most strikes me, however, is the interplay bewtween Eaton and trumpeter Crowley, who gets only three cuts in but is dynamite every time he pops up, maintaining a strikingly dynamic melodic tension/harmony with the sax, Me, but not Myself a killer example, my favorite cut. The song goes on for 10-1/2 glorious minutes and would very much fit in the jazzier domains of the aforementioned prog world and its fusion offshoots. Then, when Liebman slides in, in Alter Ego, everything lights up. And you can tell he's still giving Eaton lessons in playing from the bottom of one's soul. If recent CDs with him elsewhere haven't quite shown it fully, his Machine Mass work and such, I don't know what the hell y'all are missing, but Dave's in extremely fine fettle, every micron as good as his decades earlier ECM work.
Shareef Taher is a marvelous drummer; like Whiteley, he stays in no fixed position and is forever straddling the fine line between rhythm duties and freewheeling expression as exhilaratingly as Eaton and the rest. Mike and Dave go to it ever more interlockingly in Prickly, wilder and wilder, and Taher's right beneath and beside them every step of the way, laying the groundwork. The bass duties are split by Dan Ori and Scott Colberg, and both act as colorative units when not soloing. Yeah, they're rhythm cats as well, but their sound is more conservative than the crazed horns, filling in the spaces and packing the sides of the ensemble. It's a much needed function that helps define the songs as songs, not just righteous chops fests. Hard to believe this is Eaton's debut as a leader, but it is, and I'd place it in with my favorite progfusion sides: Embryo, Il Volo, The Long Hello, Elton Dean, etc.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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