Black Diamond is centered on a special partnership between two tenor saxophonists, who often seem to think, feel, and even breathe as one. The quartet weaves a seamless musical fabric, sometimes serene and sometimes muscular, deepening and extending the jazz tradition with strains of folk and world music.
Artie Black and Hunter Diamond first connected at the renowned jazz program at Indiana University in Bloomington. Together they launched an intensive investigation of the work of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, the saxophonists associated with the iconoclastic Lennie Tristano. That light, dry sound, and the use of complex rhythmic variations to build intensity, inspired Black and Diamond to develop their own personal two-tenor conception.
Melodic lines intertwine magically in their compositions and improvisations, and the pairing is strengthened by a contrast between the two players: both on and off the horn, Artie tends toward introspection, playing and speaking with a patient thoughtfulness, and Hunter leans toward extroversion and risk-taking.
The collaboration was renewed a few years later when the two horn players reunited in Chicago. The city’s thriving free jazz and improvisational music scene broadened their musical horizons even further, and the ensemble gelled with the addition of bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Neil Hemphill, both sensitive and versatile players. The band’s first CD, Mandala (2017), was listed as an Editor’s Pick in Downbeat Magazine.
This new recording comes on the heels of several tours and an appearance at the Chicago Jazz Festival. It was recorded live during a five-week residency in January 2018 at the Whistler, the vibrant and eclectic nightclub/artspace in Chicago’s Logan Square. The new compositions reflect a growing sense of the group’s distinctive voice and a wider space for spontaneous improvisation.
The jaunty, offbeat Tihai opens the record with the two horns improvising together and gradually building intensity, egging each other on (the tune is named for a rhythmic sequence – three repetitions followed by a rest – featured in Indian classical music). Maybe, which begins with a syncopated pattern and moves into interlocking figures by the two horns, is a fragment of a larger composition of contrapuntal rounds, evoking the music of avant-garde composer Moondog.
That’s followed by the exotic rhythm and harmonies of Chant, an homage to the classic quartet of John Coltrane, which features a sinuous improvisation by Black on bass clarinet and a probing bass solo by Ulery. The propulsive Henrylle, inspired by a live performance by saxophonist Bill McHenry and drummer Andrew Cyrille, centers around a driving, expansive solo by Diamond over a bass clarinet ostinato.
The disc closes on a reflective note. In the peaceful, almost elegiac Aerosonic, the interplay of the two saxophones seems to float in space, followed by an arco bass solo over a fluttering horn figure. Oh Bee is a haunting tone poem that unfolds and builds as the two saxophones feed into each other’s energy and then lay down a pulsing drone, over which Hemphill spins a shimmering web of rhythm.
It’s exciting to be able to follow these young musicians, well-versed in the music and committed to its growth, creating and developing their own unique and compelling vision, and making beautiful music together.
- Curtis Black
released February 15, 2019
Artie Black - tenor saxophone/ bass clarinet
Hunter Diamond - tenor saxophone
Matt Ulery - bass
Neil Hemphill - drums
All music composed by Artie Black (BMI) and Hunter Diamond (BMI).
Recorded live at the Whistler Chicago on January 23rd and 30th, 2018.
Recorded and Mixed by Dave Zuchowski
Additional mixing by Nick Broste
Mastered by Brian Schwab
Artwork and design by Marine Tempels
Special thanks to Billy Helmkamp and the staff at the Whistler.
Released on Dave Douglas' influential Greenleaf Music...DD has exemplary antenna! Ascendent ensemble playing. This is a great listen...intrinsically linked to Mingus' 'The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady', listen separately or in conjunction but embrace both. Think of them as call and response, perhaps. John Cratchley
Contemporary, yet steeped in an understanding and love of the genre, Kirchner's compositions are first rate, the covers judiciously selected, and the playing throughout is absolutely first rate. Hard to pick anyone out, but the bass clarinet is just sublime.
Stellar performances and terrific compositions. This is seriously good jazz, deeply spiritual in many ways, but with a confident, energised spring in its step.
Sure to be one of the standout jazz releases of 2018. Michael Mueller