After being punched in the face by the sheer audacity of the previous studio album, Cosmic Transitions, from saxophonist and bandleader Isaiah Collier, I threw myself over his entire artistic output in amazement. His most recent record, released lated in 2022 is the album I AM | BEYOND in capital letters. This time with the band name Beyond, featuring gong-master Jimmy Chan and Michael Ode on drums, where the latter also played on the abovementioned Cosmic Transitions. The musicians write themselves on the album’s Bandcamp page that «The one goal for the album was to go «Beyond»». I believe them, and I am ready to go Beyond.
We are provided with an hour of solid 60s Coltrane style spiritual and free jazz, in duo exchange style between saxophone and drums. The eleven minute introduction throws the album deep into the spiritual realm, and nearly five of the six additional tracks is filled to the brim with wild saxophone wailing, shrieking and squawking, clearly reminscent of Coltrane and Sanders. They play loud, aggressive, groovy and funky. The drumming is fierce as hell, sounding almost possessed, and it’s impressive that the album maintains its intensity for nearly an hour with just two instruments.
While I enjoyed the album overall, I did have some issues with the exaggerated use of reverb, which at times made it sound like there were multiple saxophones playing. It added an artificial quality to the music that, while perhaps intended to expand the album’s sonic scope, ultimately detracted from the tightness of the performance. Additionally, I found myself longing for the addition of a piano or more use of the gongs and bells featured in the introduction.
After five rather intense tracks, with few breaks, there is solace to be found in the last track «Hymn: Love Beyond Compare». with a saxophone meloody that gradually reminds me of the squeeky off-kilter rendition of Happy Birthday which Coltrane had on the track Welcome on his post-humous album Transition. Its sweet, soothing and I can absolutely appreciate that the album comes with a such a clear intro and outro.
Overall, I AM | BEYOND is a great record, featuring talented musicians I have grown quite fond of just in the matter of days. I would however still rather listen to the superior Cosmic Transitions first with its sax/drum/piano/bass lineup. I hope to see Isaiah Collier and his band perform live in the near future.
Jimmy Chan (gong, singing bowls, v, various), Isaiah Collier (s, various), Michael Ode (dr)