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Darius Jones - Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) Music Album Reviews

Darius Jones - Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) Music Album Reviews
The New York saxophonist’s breakup album subverts what we’ve come to expect from the genre. Covering songs by Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and others, he finds new emotions in familiar songs.

In an era when avant-garde jazz increasingly incorporates speech samples, rapping, and spoken word, Darius Jones stands out for his narrative sensibility. Granted, his music is abstract, even when it occasionally includes vocals. Yet we intuit a story, in part because the alto saxophonist tells us one exists. Jones’ first two trio albums, 2009’s reputation-making Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) and 2011’s giant step Big Gurl (Smell My Dream), documented his Virginian beginnings, and he accompanied later releases with philosophical texts about language’s obsolescence. Jones makes his point by showing, not just telling. His compositions are so intensely honed and performed they seem to talk, moan, and cry about intimate experience in ways we might expect to find in novels, not instrumental records.

The 43-year-old’s latest, the live recording Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation), isn’t necessarily his best—many of his releases vie for that title—yet its document of personal flux is more convincing than ever. Playing alone for the first time on a full-length, Jones communes with his influences, responding to the dissolution of his marriage by tackling the classics. His versions stray far from the source material; it never feels as though he’s seeking stability in the tunes of others. With wild shifts of energy and plenty of silence, Raw Demoon Alchemy reminds us that the sorrow of splitting up can’t be defined by one emotion: Rather, its components are diffuse, disorienting, and sometimes contradictory.

The album begins where most romances end—with the blues. The doleful opener, a cover of Georgia Anne Muldrow’s previously unreleased “Figure No. 2,” consists of an ostinato he subtly transforms by varying tempo, volume, and emphasis. Jones chews on sullenness, sees how it sounds—but never succumbs. Ornette Coleman’s deep cut “Sadness” keeps us mostly in the comfort of the blues, but its flashes of giddiness both undermine the titular sentiment and reveal the terror of its extremes, as Jones’ sax screeches with reverb and murmurs at its low end. The original arrangement of Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love,” from 1931, merged jazz and classical orchestration on turf wide enough for both genres—a film score. Jones repaves the piece with an intentionally cracked and uneven cover: He repeats four ascending, half-jeering notes, as though he wants to mock love itself, before his angst resolves in a few fluid melodies. The record rejiggers our own hearing, and we wonder: Must the blues, with its familiar comforts, be a sign of heartbreak? Might the dissonant stretches, with their spirit of restless reinvention, signal both searing pain and the resourcefulness of the newly single moving on?

When we expect his sax to wallow in gloom, Jones offers sudden mood swings. He plays ambiguous music that lacks any prescription of glumness. His take on Roscoe Mitchell’s “Nonaah” begins with a sputtering deconstruction of the original’s eight-note refrain. Playing live in Brooklyn this October, Jones discussed his admiration for Mitchell’s courage: Audiences booed the elder saxophonist, a founding member of the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago, when he first performed “Nonaah” in the 1970s, before they found themselves moved by his persistence. Jones’ relatively sparse version keeps accumulating notes like a snowball rolling down a hill, until it arrives at a faithful rendition of the original. He summons his bravery in front of us, letting conventional expressions of heartbreak eat his dust.

By the last track, Sun Ra’s “Love In Outer Space,” we’re unmoored entirely from jazz orthodoxy, blasted off to a distant planet where prettiness has little currency. Without mutes or pedals, Jones imbues his sax with timbres that approximate those of a jackhammer, then a teakettle. Yet his horn does something even more unusual—it offers a sense of beginning, middle, and end, without resorting to the often powerful verbal directness that bolsters the jazz of so many of his contemporaries. Using a drastically limited palette, Raw Demoon Alchemy makes us question why we associate certain musical styles and scales with particular sentiments. Isn’t emotion, after all, in the ear of the beholder? And doesn’t the music Jones interprets contain shades of many feelings—loss and love, confusion and serenity—all of which can be drawn out, sometimes simultaneously, by a masterful player? I was hurt, but I’m healing, we expect Darius Jones to tell us on his breakup record. Instead, we learn that while he may never recover completely, he’s expanding nonetheless.

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Darius Jones - Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) Music Album Reviews Darius Jones - Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, November 12, 2021 Rating: 5

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