Caleb Wheeler Curtis: Heatmap

Editor's Choice

Rating: ★★★★

Record and Artist Details


Eric Revis
Orrin Evans
Gerald Cleaver
Caleb Wheeler Curtis (as, ss)


Imani Records


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Rec. July 2021

The 36 year-old American saxophonist and composer Caleb Wheeler Curtis has been treading an unshowily determined path since his move from Michigan to New York in the early 2010s, and on some eclectic early work with young genre-benders including composer/producer Logan Evan Thomas' Manner Effect collective, the Bird-mutating quartet Walking Distance, and in Philadelphia's Captain Black Big Band with former Bad Plus pianist Orrin Evans. Evans partners Curtis here, alongside the A-list bass/drums team of Eric Revis and Gerald Cleaver on Heatmap, a remarkable set of 10 originals Curtis conceived specifically for this lineup. What marks Curtis out is a resolutely personal sax sound, reflecting Coltrane, Ornette, and some of the tonal tremors of Albert Ayler - but within a composer's conception flexible enough to embrace both free-collective ensemble invention and subtle structure.

The title track's inviting piano intro always hints at a concealed theme, but it's postponed by a fluid freebop band conversation, and a Curtis solo of quivering intonations and ambiguous resolutions before the rugged melody finally arrives on Cleaver's insistent groove. The shrill, lurching ‘Surrounding’ will thrill classic-Ornette fans (Evans' streaming solo against Cleaver's bumping drums is awesome, as is Curtis' howling arrival), the brooding, mysterious ‘Limestone’ and the yearning softly-falsetto ‘Trees for the Forest’ are exquisite tone-poems, ‘C(o)urses’ is a seesawing, skipping, rush-hour-traffic onrush that Curtis takes out into freedom with a whooping, breathless break over the seamless ensemble surge of his partners. Heatmap is truly exhilarating post-Ornette free-jazzmaking, and confirms just how much rich invention that method can still set loose.

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