Microtonal music theory teaches us, among other things, that being “out of tune” is a relative concept. What might sound off key to someone accustomed to strictly Western culture won’t sound that way at all to someone attuned to the music of other cultures. Alto and tenor saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh has thought a lot about the interval between tones, perhaps more than anyone else. That passion, along his Persian heritage, has led him to develop a music concept he call the “post-chromodal” approach, whereby any tone, any temperament is fair game to the musician. Indeed, instead of attempting to advance a new kind of music from a certain culture, Modirzadeh’s approach intends to surpass any notion of culture-based music.
Sounds pretty ambitious, don’t it?
The first full manifestation of post-chromodal came two years ago in a collaboration Modirzadeh made with Iraqi-American trumpet player Amir ElSaffar entitled Radif Suite (2010). Post-Chromodal Out! is yet another exercise in equal temperament-free tonality, but with an added twist: a piano is added to the mix. You might wonder how an instrument with equal, full intervals can be employed toward this kind of music, and the answer is, Modirzadeh rigged (tuned) the piano so that it can be used that way. You might further ask, who in the world did he get to play a piano outfitted in this way? Vijay Iyer, that’s who.
[SOMETHING ELSE REWIND: Vijay Iyer again creates new possibilities in jazz with the highly acclaimed Accelerando.]
Joining Iyer are ElSaffar, Ken Filiano (bass) and Royal Hatigan (drums), with special appearances by Danongan Kalanduyan (Filipino kulintang), Faraz Minooei (Persian santur) and Timothy Volpicella (electric guitar). There are twenty-eight tracks, a lot to stuff into one disc, but Modirzadeh merely broke up several compositions into their kernel ideas. Some tracks utilize the full ensemble, and other times he breaks off into pairs or trios.
Nearly each kernel brings its own unique approach. “Facet Fourteen” is the most bop-oriented of all the cuts, resembling Eric Dolphy and Booker Little’s Five Spot performances. “Facet Sixteen” explores the exotic tonality naturally found in percussion instruments. “Facet Seventeen” comes close to the harmolodics of Ornette Coleman, although Modirzadeh arrived at that spot near Coleman using a much different path. “Warp Four” begins with a short head that’s in the odd tonalities, but once Modirzadeh, ElSaffar and Iyer jump into a free form group improv, it’s simply a meeting of great extemporaneous performers. Volpicella appears on only two tracks, but it’s enough to make a big impression. His post-chromodal lines heard on “Interlude IV” are done with such unusual phrasings on his guitar, it would have been worth further investigation.
Iyer converses fluently with the kulintang “Interlude I,” displaying a mastery of the specially tuned piano. He interacts with Filiano’s bass for “Wolf Two-Ensemble,” a strange but compelling combination of Iyer playing that piano as Filiano plays his bass with equal temperament. Iyer performs with what sounds like a normally tuned piano on “Warp Three-Ensemble” and he plays with spunk and unpredictability.
With so many jazz musicians seeking — thankfully — to forge their own path, you won’t find one as aspiring as Hafez Modirzadeh’s. It goes beyond just the vision, because he found the right musicians to carry it out, starting with Vijay Iyer. Post-Chromodal Out!, as a result, will go down as being one of the most atypical and imaginative out-jazz records of this year.
Post-Chromodal Out! will be released July 24, by Pi Recordings.
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