Rent Romus is a big picture kind of guy. Over the past quarter century he’s been a catalytic figure on the San Francisco Bay Area’s improv music scene as a player, producer, and proprietor of the invaluable Edgetone Records, a label responsible for nearly 200 releases by a daunting array of brilliant envelope-pushing artists. As a composer and bandleader, he’s pursued a similarly expansive vision with his Life’s Blood Ensemble, a talent-laden group for which he’s created a strikingly vivid body of music (often inspired by epic mythology drawn from his ancestral roots in Finnish culture).
For Rising Colossus, Romus brings his various musical worlds together. Focusing on original pieces he’s commissioned from younger Bay Area artists, Rising Colossus offers an incisive and often exhilarating glimpse at a scene that Romus has played an essential role in shaping. The LBE dives headlong into a disparate array of compositions, opening and closing the album with very different works inspired by epic tales: pianist Brett Carson four-part suite that subdivides the band into smaller units and Romus’s shimmering “Empyrean City Rising” that keys on Mark Clifford’s vibes.
“I’ve been fascinated by these larger epic pieces with multiple movements,” Romus says. “This is an opportunity to showcase that music and concept.”
Where Carson creates almost programmatic music keyed the titles of the sections, Marshall’s “Cicatrix” only hints obliquely at the slashing music to come. Designed around extreme contrasts, the piece moves from a beatific first movement into the churning thrum of the second. Drummer Timothy Orr brought Braxton’s epochal “Composition 23J” into the mix, and Romus opened it up for the LBE with spontaneous voicings that flow from Braxton’s liberationist spirit.
“In his notes Braxton talks about ‘23J’ having the capacity for a wider breadth of intonation,” he says. “Precision wasn’t the most important part, but creating shape and density. It’s like bebop on stimulants.”
In many ways the album’s emotional core is John Tchicai’s “Cherry Vanilla,” a composition that the free jazz explorer wrote for Romus and performed on his 1997 Lords of Outland CD Adapt or Die! A thematic piece with three distinct movements, it’s a grand promenade, raucous, and celebratory. Romus revived it at a 20-year Lords of Outland reunion concert and it’s a fitting memento for an undersung master.
“I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it, and decided to arrange it for a larger ensemble,” Romus says. “Tchicai’s history was so extensive. He worked with players we all know and admire, and he was a very quiet and humble person, open to working with all types of people and playing all types of music. He left such a strong impression.”
Romus has put Tchicai in very good company. Life’s Blood pulses with the energy of now, while paying potent tribute to the artists who opened these lush fields for exploration. No colossus rises on its own. Romus knows that in the big picture, we’re all in this together.
by Andrew Gilbert, San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area News Group
Edgetone Records was founded by musician/producer, Rent Romus. The label took shape in 1991 to support his group’s original
jazz recordings. After being on a long hiatus Rent re-opened Edgetone in January 2000 and expanded it to support new music crossing the genre boundaries specifically for D.I.Y. (do it yourself) artists looking for a ground base and community label identity....more