Donovan Mixon | Culmination

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Culmination

by Donovan Mixon

World-Jazz. Extended compositions with improvisation. American, European and Eastern influences. Uncluttered, transparent textures of relaxed elegance.
Genre: Jazz: World Fusion
Release Date: 

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1. Summer of '78
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7:05 album only
2. The Dance of Life
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4:01 album only
3. Culmination
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3:57 album only
4. We Are Yo' Kids
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3:49 album only
5. Mist
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1:14 album only
6. Mercury
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3:52 album only
7. Eddi & Daniela
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4:45 album only
8. Quando Il Lupo Annusa i Fiori
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10:32 album only
9. Rough Translation
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1:56 album only
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
‘Culmination’, the title track for this 2010 internet release, is scored for his world-jazz group ‘Hybrid Project’, consisting of acoustic guitar, ney, alto sax, trumpet, cello, bass and drums. The composition, originally written for chamber orchestra and jazz rhythm section, won an award for jazz composition from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

Notes from Francesco Martinelli: fmartinelli@tin.it

Istanbul is still a city of wonders. Behind the great metropolis with his fumes and traffic jams, its noble profile defaced by urbanistic crimes and its unique memories apparently under attack from all sides, there's still a spirit fueled by the traditions that met – and fought – there over the centuries.

There's unmistakably a buzz in today's Istanbul, a vibe generated by young generations eager to be open to the outside world, and often brought to reconsider their country's recent and ancient history. Artists are stimulated by the atmosphere, and among a group of musicians currently tapping the energy of the Bosphorous town is guitar player and composer Donovan Mixon. Tall and athletic, Donovan could be an ex-basketball player, and his serious face is ready to open in a sweet smile – his students say he's pretty good at frowning too, but I haven't experienced that. What I know is that of the American jazz musicians that I've met, and they are a fair number, Donovan is among the most receptive to European culture.

He lived in Italy for many years, we had in Istanbul pleasant conversations in Italian, and his attitude is not a “transatlantic” one anymore.

Don is thoroughly schooled in jazz and contemporary music, but in view of subsequent developments, his early connection with guitarist Dennis Sandole is especially intriguing. “Modern Music from Philadelphia” by the Sandole brothers, of Italian descent, was a landmark of the 50's “new music” and contained compositions like “The boys from Istanbul”! After extensive studies, Donovan played professionally on the road for several years, and his activity as a teacher reflects a practical approach to the needs of a working musician. He recorded with the likes of Lee Konitz, George Garzone and Eddie Henderson, and distilled his experiences into a personal style of relaxed elegance, where notes are carefully placed in a uncluttered, transparent texture.

With this Cd a distinctly Turkish element enters in his music, not in a heavy concoction of “typical” sounds: the rich tradition of colors and sounds in Turkish music yields some selected ingredients – the unique tone of ‘ney’ (a Turkish wooden flute), some special scales and rhythms – but the agenda is not dictated by anything external to Donovan's idea of music.

“Summer Of 78” slowly grows from acoustic guitar to a “chamber” sound before introducing the sound of Ercan Irmak's ney. Ercan is one of the most important and in demand players of this instrument, central to the mystical and classical tradition; he guested on this track because he especially liked the composition. His improvisation combines traditional technique with the modern feeling of the theme, and the breathy sound of the ney integrates smoothly with the ensemble in a sequence of variations and permutations. The trumpet countermelodies at the end theme played by Senova Ulker, a guest and respected soloist both in classical and jazz circles in Istanbul, seem to be improvised but they are in fact written parts.

On the wistful “The Dance Of Life”, Senova Ulker carries the theme with authority before entertaining an improvised dialogue with the guitar. Aptly entitled, this composition possesses a highly capricious quality perhaps due to the asymmetric construction of the main theme, harmonic rhythm and phrases. Performed with an exquisite 3/4 swing by the ensemble.

“Culmination” - awarded a jazz composition prize by the National Endowment for the Arts - is Donovan's take on the never-ending fascination of jazz players with the contrapunct of Baroque music, in a dramatic growing complexity of voicings, sharp tempo changes, fast, articulated lines and a question at the end, it's most aptly the centerpiece of the Cd.

"We Are Yo' Kids” - a special kind of nursery song, has a definite Latin feel: listen to the drums on this one. Ferit Odman, like Billy Higgins, is a smiling drummer, but he's listening too. This bright young man, whom I had the pleasure to have as a student in my classes, is putting under his belt an extraordinary amount of serious work, having fun while learning all the time from different sources. His light, airy swing carefully follows the indications of the composer without losing relaxation. “He lets loose in the duet with fellow percussionist Engin Gurkey, while Serhan Erkol provides rhythmic drive with his bari riffs.”

“Mist” is not an impressionistic piece, in fact it's the closest Donovan gets on this Cd to contemporary music with a dramatic exploration of dynamics and dissonance at once.

"Mercury" opens and prominently features Jeff McAuley, an American cello player with a taste for adventure in music and life. Jeff is a classical musician, but we don't hold this against him, since he's getting more and more intrigued by the idea of improvisation. Mixon's concept of music, with his emphasis on light but well-connected structures establishing a dialectic with improvisation is the perfect point of entry for Jeff's cello, with its careful intonation and melodic phrasing.

The atmospheric, suspended prelude of “Eddi & Daniela”features Ayça Ergin on ney: a girl, quite a startling sight on a predominantly male instrument, who studied with the most important masters before starting her own career. Her performance is largely responsible for the feel of this piece that eventually concludes with a trio with the guitar and cello.

“Quando Il Lupo Annusa i Fiori” - a humorous title, “When the wolf smells the flowers” in Italian – features in the intro Caner Kaptan on bass: another musician in his 20's who shows great promise. The rich tone of Ulker's trumpet can be fully appreciated in the development of the piece, at times almost alone in the acoustic space: Donovan then gets to play his electric guitar, and his proportioned, sometimes blues-tinged solo is a model of restrained intensity built through crisp, full-attacked tones, generating an equally inspired repartee by Senova.

Fading in already in full swing, “Rough Translation” is the most overtly Oriental theme, limited to a quick impression of Donovan and his band passing by in their quest, giving an appointment for some further stage of the travel – this listener only hopes the next installment will come soon.

Francesco Martinelli
fmartinelli@tin.it



CULMINATION

TRACK ORDER

1. Summer of ’78 * 7:04
2. The Dance of Life 4:01
3. Culmination 3:56
4. We Are Yo’ Kids 3:48
5. Mist 1:13
6. Mercury 3:52
7. Eddi & Daniela 4:44
8. Quando Il Lupo Annusa I Fiori 10:31
9. Rough Translation 1:56

Total: 41:27

All music composed and arranged by Donovan Mixon, © 2010 Dibim Music BMI.

Personnel

Donovan Mixon Guitars
Serhan Erkol Alto & Baritone Saxophones
Ayca Ergin Ney
*Ercan Irmak Ney (Summer of ’78 only)
Senova Ulker Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Caner Kaptan Acoustic Bass
Ferit Odman Drums
Engin Gurkey Percussion

Recording produced by Donovan Mixon,
Myspace.com/donovanmixon
Facebook.com
donovanmixon@gmail.com

Recorded at Istanbul Bilgi University, Engineer Doruk Ozturk.
Mixed and Mastered at Modulab via Del Lavoro, Casalecchio sul Reno – Bologna, Italy Engineer: Marco Biscarini, marco.biscarini@fastwebnet.it
Technical consultant: Mine Erkaya

Special Thanks to: Diana Anton

Compositions that were composed in America:
Summer of ’78
Mist
Mercury
*Culmination
We Are Yo’ Kids

Compositions composed in Italy
Eddi & Daniela
Quando Il Lupo Annusa i Fiori

Compositions composed in Turkey
The Dance of Life
Rough Translation



Reviews


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Alexandra ivanoff

"Culmination:" Mixon's Jazz Journeys
“Culmination:” Mixon’s Jazz Journeys

Having lived in Italy for eight years and Turkey for almost a decade, guitarist/composer Donovan Mixon has let the Mediterranean seep into his American soul in interesting ways. His music, definitely downscale and contemplative, yet with plenty of pulse, often feels like a Fellini film score or an Antatolian-influenced ballad that ruminates about the quality of time, the sting of a last kiss, or even spiritual matters. His compositions wade in those famous blue waters with bare feet, while tugging at his tag team of shell-collectors on a Sunday afternoon at the shore. It’s not ambient fare at all, but jazz with the proviso that you never know what’s coming next and it will definitely not hurt you. It’s billed as “global jazz” but it’s not world music in the current sense -- it’s Mixon’s personal take on his own jazz journeys and how they’ve shaped him.

Mixon works here with some of Istanbul’s best musicians: ney players Ercan İrmak and Ayça Ergin; Serhan Erkol on alto and baritone saxes; Caner Kaptan on acoustic bass; Engin Gürkey and Ferit Odman on percussion and drums; and Şenova Ülker on trumpet and flugelhorn. The lone other American is cellist/composer Jeff McAuley, who lends some attractive and energized playing.

If Mixon seems somnolescent in “Summer of ‘78,” with the lazy, hazy sounds of the Turkish ney (vertical flute) lulling us alongside his guitar and Ülker’s flugelhorn, he wakes us up at the end with a siren resembling a large bird on the horizon, signalling the next track: “The Dance of Life.” There, the unpredictable mayhem of Rome and Istanbul waltz us through a docu-dream that’s equal parts romantic and exasperating.

“Culmination” follows with an almost classical chamber music texture with the cello’s sustain and guitar arpeggiations and Kurt Weill-like trumpet declarations before it breaks out into free-form. Then it finds itself in an jaunty hopping rhythm using repeated saxophone riffs reminiscent of John Kirby’s little band arrangements of the 1930s. “Culmination” is a little masterpiece that I think reveals Mixon’s total musical kaleidoscope throughout. I’m thrilled and not surprised that it won a prize from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We Are Yo’ Kids” has serious commercial hit potential. An upbeat groove with just a tinge of inner-city Latin flavor, it sports good ol’ major mode all the way with a light-hearted melody harmonized in thirds. It’s a “winnah,” as New Yorkers would say. The short “Mist” that follows is a totally different corner of Mixon’s mind: a surreal afterthought.

“Mercury” mixes it up like a grab-bag of sounds and tempos, with the ney’s breathy quality (and its near-Eastern tuning) and Western instruments. McAuley’s pretty cello solo appears in the beginning, then returns as an improvised dance that sets everybody else in motion. Sometimes it all works, but sometimes it feels like a patchwork quilt strained at the seams; maybe it’s juxtaposition of too many elements competing for a turn at the mic.

“Eddi & Daniela” is another chamber-style piece given a unique character by the lyrical cello part and the sexy sound of the ney along with guitar, bass and drums. The constantly changing rhythmic motifs are like a whirlwind romance that tries to find its footing, then decides to call it quits.

The pizzicato bass intro to “Quando il lupo annusa i fiori,” then Mixon’s ominous sustained electric guitar notes, and Ülker’s boozy trumpet solo take us directly to a Chet Baker reverie in the back room for a perfect film noir setting that evokes Robert Mitchum’s heavy-lidded nonchalance in “Farewell My Lovely.” The title means “when the wolf smells the flowers,” so we know the protagonist is up to something. Though “Quando...” is the longest tune (over 10 minutes) on the disc; its totally engrossing, painterly qualities make the listener want much more.

“Rough Translation” feels like a fragment that kind of leaves us before its time. No problem. Sometimes the culmination of everything is just that simple.

Drummer Ferit Odman’s subtle and clever choices at every moment, never overpowering, only enhancing as he goes, deserve special notice.

--Alexandra Ivanoff
Music journalist in Istanbul for “TIme Out Istanbul” magazine, “Today’s Zaman” newspaper, “Andante” and “Jazz” magazines. email: 089qwe@gmail.com