I'm late in reviewing this, but I wouldn't want to deprive improvised music lovers of notice of this truly great album. Multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, one of the amazing musical innovators of the past four decades, fully deserves his own genre (he dislikes the connotations of "jazz" and has dubbed what he does "autophysiopsychic music") because he crosses all other style boundaries; he once won a Grammy in the New Age category -- for a symphony -- and had to ask what New Age was! Lateef has been working with percussionist Adam Rudolph for about a decade now, and in their collaborations they seem to consistently inspire each other to the most exquisite heights of improvisational imagination.
Go: Organic Orchestra consists mostly of Los Angelenos, here consisting of (including the leaders) 15 wind players (all on at least two instruments apiece, heavy on clarinets and a wide variety of flutes but also including oboe, bassoon, harmonica, and more exotic instruments) with Bennie Maupin and long-time Lateef collaborator Ralph Jones III among the soloists; one viola player, Karen Elaine Bakunin, doubling on waterphone; and six percussionists, including Alex Cline and Harris Eisenstadt. The kaleidoscopic timbre combinations are dazzling, and the density of the arrangements shifts from a tenor sax/hand drums duet by the leaders on "Nanna" to the shadowy blocks of sound on the following "Morphic Resonance" to the twittering, skittering free-for-all two tracks later on "Trace Elements," with many other wonderful sonic combinations across the two discs of this album recorded at concerts at the Electric Lodge in Venice, California on March 1-2, 2003 (all three of the Lateef/Rudolph/Go: Organic Orchestra albums have documented concerts).
When the drummers concentrate on hand drums and weave a complex web of polyrhythms, cathartic ritual dances of ancient lineage come to mind. When the winds, minus percussion, are at their most dissonant and monolithic, they recall eerie textures not heard since some of Bob Graettinger's ahead-of-their-time arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, though with an airier feel here with no brass and using a completely different process to structure the music: to borrow an explanation from Rudolph's website, "Rudolph conducts the orchestra in an improvisational process, utilizing themes and cues he and Lateef have composed. From these compositional modules, Rudolph spontaneously constructs the sonic environments with which the soloists interact."
Overall, it's a transcendent experience and a worthy successor to the epic 1996 album by Lateef and Rudolph, The World at Peace: Music for 12 Musicians. Like its predecessor, In the Garden ranks among the very finest albums in Lateef's career -- and the man has been making records as a leader since 1957 and was 83 years old when In the Garden was recorded, so that's saying something.
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based former editor of Creem Magazine and CDNow.com, editor of the acclaimed MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, and contributor to The Big Takeover, Early Music America, and many other hip periodicals. He is a buyer at Sound Fix, a hot new record store in Williamsburg.