Review of Musical Blessing by Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre

“Nothing to say except what’s going on being a professional musician. Starvation box. You don’t get nothing. We’re fighting to stay alive.”

The sobering sentiments above are the sole artist’s notes for tenorist Kalaparush McIntyre’s latest CIMP release. The decades since his ascendancy as an AACM leader in the late 1960s haven’t been kind to his financial solvency or physical fitness with street corner busking serving as a principal means of both musical expression and income for at the least the past handful. CIMP has stalwartly stood by him through these lean years, releasing a string of projects showcasing his music, peculiarities and all, over the past decade. Those foibles are in full display onMusical Blessing,too, where the occasional reed squeak, ragged entry or eccentric intonation choice doesn’t always sound intentional. An essay of Coltrane’s “Impressions” is delivered at a fractured and halting crawl.

Above all, McIntyre frequently sounds world-weary and more than a bit insular in his improvisations, the frustrations enunciated in his artistic statement bleeding over into the wounded language expressed through his horn. It’s a discouraging state of affairs the good folks at CIMP are well familiar with as the bulk of their now vast catalog of releases documenting some of finest free jazz musicians still resides in a space removed from the awareness of most jazz listeners. This session dates to nearly three and a half years ago, a long time to be collecting dust in the can.

In contrast, McIntyre’s colleagues on the session don’t sound the least bit disheartened by any of these hard realities. Bassist Michael Logan, a regular McIntyre confrere, joins bassist RaDu Ben Judah (a former Sun Ra sideman) in weaving febrile patterns of cross-hatching lines. Both men take the leader’s idiosyncrasies easily in stride and use the pervading looseness to come up with some risky ventures of their own as on the hard-strumming bass relay that opens “Crossing Zone.”

Drummer Warren Smith has experienced some similar ups and downs in his over half-century behind the kit. His ace percussion skills are an asset from the outset and the CIMP standard of naked, no compression recording brings his polyrhythms into bold relief. Referencing McIntyre and Smith’s Chicago roots “Southside Loop” gives the bassists a break and allows the drummer to converse musically and verbally with his old friend. It quickly becomes a beautiful example of one improviser honoring and enhancing the work of another.

McIntyre may not be the player he was in his prime, but like past loft jazz lions-in-winter (Frank Lowe in particular springs to mind) a depth of feeling projects from his singular serpentine phrasing that almost seems enhanced by the situationally-compromised facets of his musical toolbox. It’s especially true on the closing largely-solo rendering of “The Very Thought of You.” Listening through and past the irregularities that litter his phrasing, there’s an artist of obvious integrity and worth still wholly dedicated to putting his personal message out.

[Postscript: Kalaparush passed away on November 9, his financial and professional positioning not much removed from the status quo described in the quote that leads this piece. As a final artistic statement he might have wished for better, but the candor and poignancy suffusing this record still gets the job done.]

Derek Taylor

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