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Michael Marcus Trio - Ithem

Nate Dorward, Paris Transatlantic

Like many other free jazz saxophonists of the 1970s Michael Marcus plays strongly R'n'B-inflected free jazz. A big fan of Roland Kirk and George Braith, he often favours the black sheep of the saxophone family: conn-o-sax, saxello, sopranino, manzello, stritch. But on Ithem, a set of previously unreleased trio performances with William Parker and the late Denis Charles from 1993, he's in a Dolphy frame of mind: he keeps to alto sax and bass clarinet throughout, and his a cappella introduction to "Secret Oceans" pays direct homage to Dolphy's reading of "Tenderly".

The standout track is the long reading of "Ithem" that opens the album, recorded live at the (old) Knitting Factory. Marcus turns in a booting alto solo, there's some great hit-you-between-the-eyes drumming from Charles, and Parker's zippy bass lines are strikingly different from his heavier, gravitas-laden work of recent years.

The rest of the disc is consistently fine, even if nothing else quite measures up to the opening track.
A second reading of "Ithem" from an earlier studio session is placed at the end of the disc, a free blowout this time, though Charles' clubbing drumming has echoes of Max Roach.

The disc is brief - 43 minutes - but it's a pleasing discovery: as always, Ayler Records shows a fine knack for uncovering previously unreleased music that sounds as vital as ever.