A Spanish tinge permeates Diaspora Suite, the fourth installment in Steven Bernstein's Diaspora series for John Zorn's Tzadik label. Jews may have been killed or driven out of Spain during the Inquisition, but a Sephardic influence remained in the music. It could even be felt in Miles Davis' monumental Sketches of Spain, which Diaspora Suite resembles in some ways, particularly when Bernstein blows his horns — trumpet and slide trumpet — with a Harmon mute attached. His smeared notes and rapid-fire runs also have a bittersweet Davis-like quality. Gil Evans comes to mind in the way Bernstein voices his trumpet with Jeff Cressman's trombone, Ben Goldberg's clarinet, and Peter Apfelbaum's tenor saxophone to fashion fibrous textures, yet the dense, at times rock-imbued, rhythmic underpinnings are more akin to Bitches Brew-era Davis.
The Oakland-born trumpeter recorded each disc in the series in a different city, this time in Berkeley, where he assembled mostly musicians who are either based in the Bay Area or, like himself and Apfelbaum, long ago relocated to the Big Apple. The sole exception is SoCal guitarist Nels Cline, who joins fellow pickers John Schott and Will Bernard, bassist Devin Hoff, and drummers Josh Jones and Scott Amendola to complete the ensemble.
Diaspora Suite offers less composition and more improvisation than its predecessors. The four horn men, along with Cline, get the lion's share of the solo space, playing over open-ended vamps much of the time. Cressman's attack is blustery, Apfelbaum spews lava, and Goldberg's serpentine flights suggest a cross between klezmer and Coltrane, while Cline varies his approach from atmospheric to stratospheric. Together with Bernstein, they create brooding, highly impassioned music informed by centuries of suffering and survival. (Tzadik Records)
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