About Manhattan Moonrise
Don't tell the Microscopic Septet that there are no second acts in American life. Since roaring back into action in 2006 after a 14-year hiatus, the indefatigably creative ensemble has continued to evolve, burnishing and extending a well-earned reputation as one of the most consistently inventive bands of the 1980s. Reverently irreverent, insistently playful, unfussily virtuosic and unapologetically swinging, the band offers further evidence of its resurgence with Manhattan Moonrise, the Micros' first project with newly composed originals in 25 years.
With co-founders pianist Joel Forrester and soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston crafting all the album's compositions and arrangements the band plays with the loose-limbed precision of a dance orchestra in the midst of a six-month tour. The strength of the Micros flows from the old-school virtue of consistency. Along with the co-founders, the seven-piece ensemble features largely the same cast of improvisers with which it emerged from Manhattan's wild and wooly Downtown scene in 1980. Drummer Richard Dworkin, baritone saxophonist David Sewelson, bassist David Hofstra, and altoist Don Davis (who replaced John Zorn in 1981) have all been along for almost the entire Microscopic journey, while tenor saxophonist Mike Hashim joined the fold in 2006.
Manhattan Moonrise touches on the band's entire three and half decade history, with several previously unrecorded tunes from the Micros' early years, like Forrester's lushly orchestrated "No Time," which sounds like a catchy back page from Cedar Walton's songbook. Johnston's brief but scorching "Obeying The Chemicals" is another early piece, a deliciously telegraphic booting barrelhouse romp. And then there's the new work, like Forrester's episodic Beethoven-inflected closer "Occupy Your Life."
Whatever the music's vintage, it shares the unmistakable Micro stamp, a convivial marriage of ingenious craftsmanship and extroverted improvisation. If the band has a patron saint, it's clearly Thelonious Sphere Monk, whose presence is manifest in the Micros' cagey humor, harmonic syntax and hurtling rhythms. In much the same way that Monk's music existed apart from contemporaneous bebop, drawing directly on Ellington and Harlem stride piano while inhabiting its own avant-garde zone, the Micros are avid students of jazz history but unburdened by revivalist notions.
"I've always considered that the Microscopic Septet presents an outward show of being a 'revival' outfit," Forrester says. "But what we attempt to revive...never existed. A revival of the future, then?"
The future has never sounded so hip.