The Austin Chronicle

Review: Alex Coke & Carl Michel Sextet, EMERGENCE

Co-leaders make the most of band's unusual, drumless instrumentation

Reviewed by Michael Toland, May 12, 2023, Music

Saxophonist/flautist Alex Coke and guitarist Carl Michel go way back in the Austin jazz scene – both sprang from the fertile soil of the late Tina Marsh's Creative Opportunity Orchestra in the Eighties, with long and diverse careers since. Both players enjoy pushing themselves and their music beyond easy labels, but go even further with their eponymous, pandemic-gestated sextet. Second album EMERGENCE makes the most of the band's unusual instrumentation. Besides the co-leaders' axes, sounds come from Carolyn Trowbridge's vibraphone, James Sutter's bass, Bob Hoffnar's pedal steel, and Elaine Barber's harp. The drumless setup lends itself to outsider arrangements and blues-shy melodies, bringing in different influences like folk ("Rolling...The Wind Picks Up and the Boats Cast Off for Troy"), tango ("Mangled Tango"), and even "POP!" Indeed, while there's plenty of jazz – check out the cover of Paul Motian's "Garden of Eden" or the epic "4 Mobile Structures Dedicated to Alexander Calder" – pieces like "Again" and "Locust Grove" have more in common with chamber music than hard bop. The focus on this record comes from composition more than improvisation, making EMERGENCE a showcase for collective performance and visionary interpretation, and an exceptionally strong one at that.

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