Cooke Quintet | An Indefinite Suspension Of The Possible

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An Indefinite Suspension Of The Possible

by Cooke Quintet

Acoustic post-modern jazz which uses sound mass, circle music, non-western scales - but aside from the parts that most clearly reflect composition and improvisation, the music here hopes to stand outside (and then sometimes inside) traditional boundaries.
Genre: Jazz: Free Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Hard 8
7:41 $0.99
2. Ha-Me'aggel
11:38 $0.99
3. Loss
10:30 $0.99
4. Love at Twilight
7:57 $0.99
5. N 36 7.46' W 121 38.35'
7:34 $0.99
6. Harmonic Rebellion
6:40 $0.99
7. Chain of Existence (An Event Sequence)
15:00 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Liner Notes:

... an indefinite suspension of the possible, the is.

from "Getting Lost"
by Laton Carter

When a person studies and plays music, he or she will eventually encounter long-standing and traditional rules to follow. If that person is making music in a jazz style, there is usually an additional, and specific, set of rules. It is not news that some historians and critics are emphatic that these rules should consistently be followed in order for music to be made often to the exclusion of new rules, or modes of thinking, being born. This, of course, is fine for historical music, but an artist convinced of the necessity for exploration will inevitably, and unabashedly, create new rules and directions for him or herself. In order to do this, however, an artist must be willing to venture into that place where criticism is heavy, and the possible is often deemed impossible or unacceptable.

Its true that for a long time I thought this particular project was impossible. In fact, it took four years to find the right mix of musicians to realize what I hope Ive captured here in this recording. I know it wouldnt have been possible without them. Shoko Hikage, on koto, is a fearless musician and improviser. Her musical ethos was a perfect fit for this configuration. Classically trained cellist and composer Alex Kelly, who appeared on my last recording, was again a key element in the production of this music. Drummer Timothy Orr's creative blurring of freedom and tradition was an essential foundation for the rest of the musicians. Lastly, Jen Baker's expansive sounds and musical intuition on trombone were the final ingredient to help us, as a unit, establish our own boundaries and destinations.

Ha-me'aggel (one who draws circles)

This piece has four sections that can be played in any order a form known as circle music. The melodies in the piece were written using a Klezmer scale, which made me think of the story of Onias (Honi) Ha-Me'aggel, a first century Jewish scholar who drew a circle and placed himself in the center of it, praying for rain and whose prayers were mysteriously and immediately answered.

Hard 8

This performance is the result of experimenting with an octatonic scale (which utilizes eight notes instead of seven). I love how this scale can yield major, minor, and diminished triads. We like to play this one fast.


My grandmothers, The Two Ruths, were (and continue to be) a big source of support for me. Ruth Whitmore showed me the world, and Ruth Baumann was my biggest fan. They both passed during the recording of this project. The series of duets here is meant as a reflection of their absence in my life.

Love at Twilight

There is a Northern Indian raga called a shree, which is played at twilight. This piece uses elements of this raga, and mixes in other elements namely a Tuvan instrument called an igil. Listen to how Jen Bakers trombone mimics a Tuvan throat singer.

Harmonic Rebellion

This piece uses a three-note cell for its structure. We restricted ourselves to these three notes for the first part of the performance to establish a base for creating multiphonic and harmonic sounds. A second section expands the three notes into a mode, which is based on a harmonic minor scale but with an augmented 4th.

N 36 7.46' W 121 38.35'

Blair Peterman was one of my best friends in high school. He played the clarinet and was a talented photographer. His life was unfortunately cut short by a fatal seizure that occurred in his sleep. His ashes were then divided between his father and his mother. His father remembered that Blair loved a particular spot in Northern California N 36 7.46' W121 38.35' ending up being the exact coordinates so he, along with myself and a group of friends, went there to spread his ashes.

Chain of Existence (An Event Sequence)

Life is an inexplicable and humbling chain of events. This piece, a chain of sorts, reflects three significant personal events connected together by two interludes. I hope the music, without my having to explain it, can illustrate the extent these events made an impression on me. The first event has a primitive, or nascent, feel to it, where one can hear cajon and didgeridoo. The next event is an energy piece based on a simple melody. The last event is a solemn invocation where the tenor speaks to memories of the past.


"…this unit boasts great compositions in equally convincing
interpretations…" Marc Medwin - Dusted Magazine

"A wonderful depth of sound and style… it encompasses such a rich
degree of feeling… repeat listens are well rewarded…" KFJC 89.7 FM

"..ethnic, classical, jazz, and free improv elements together in surprisingly
cohesive fashion." Dave Wayne -

"...the record brims with pugnacious loquacity alternated with spiritual
depth and inquisitive-minded playfulness.." Massimo Ricci - Touching Extremes

"The playing is energetically raw at times and glacially mournful at others..."
David Kane - Cadence Magazine

"And which one thinks capable of everything else, sings thereby on his Reeds with the Verve, intimateness and matured personality of a genuine musician, whose name one must note." Rigobert Dittmann - Bad Alchemy



to write a review

Loun, KFJC 89.7 FM, Los Altos Hills, CA

"A wonderful depth of sound and style..."
A wonderful depth of sound and style is to be found on this oft reminiscent release. Taking the intriguing mixture of cello, trombone and koto (the Japanese stringed instrument which is layed on the ground and plucked) for a full spin around its realm of interesting possibilities while Michael Cooke takes a dance with every wind instrument he can get his hands on, these (for jazz) youngsters deliver a surprisingly mature and thoughtful work which often exudes joy without jumping out of its track. This is the truly pleasant surprise of this work - how it encompasses such a rich degree of feeling yet still manages to sound largely as a single piece. Repeat listens are well rewarded, but there is plenty to behold on the first pass, even for jazz neophytes. Tracks are longish, and a bit weighty, although sparse in sound at times. A welcome entry from a group with a lot of potential. Suspend your disbelief, don’t worry about what’s possible, and enjoy what has already been realized. (April 11, 2007)

Craig Matsumoto, KZSU 90.1 FM, Stanford University

Free jazz led by sax/clarinet, but with lots of other elements
Craig Matsumoto / KZSU 90.1 FM / Stanford University
Reviewed 2007-05-05
Free jazz led by sax/clarinet, but with lots of other elements, including some Klezmer composing influence and violin and koto in the band. Nice local stuff that tries to add some new ideas to the jazz motif. Instrumental; FCC clean.

1- Bustling swing, in a quirky, busy way.
2- A bouncy Klezmer influence: Slow start, fast segment, then midtempo groove. Second half includes a stretched-out interlude with koto(?) and bowed bass: slow, often quiet.
3- Slow and mournful, with deep bowed bass
4- Slow twilight intro with "world" elements, into a nice midtempo groove. Final minute gets super quiet.
5- Sad, slowly Klezmery clarinet, into fairly intense improv. Very quiet start and end.
6- Thick and pulsing, fairly fast. Slow start catapults you into it.
7- Thumping, mid/fast groove. Quiet interlude, then a frenzied free-jazz attack. A still, quiet, koto solo, into a soft mid/fast processional ending. 15 minutes total.

Cadence Magazine

"exotic timbral elements and the varied compositions"
Michael Cooke leads a diverse
group of instrumentalists through a contrasting
collection of original pieces. Besides the sax and
woodwind-wielding leader, we also encounter a
koto player, a trombonist who doubles on didgeridoo,
a cellist who doubles on something called an
igil, and a drummer. The unique instrumentation
helps differentiate the music from similar groups
who trade in the “new thing” (which by now, is
pretty much the “old thing”). The compositions are
quirky and varied and they succeed more often than they fail in leading the group into fertile
improvisational spaces. The playing is energetically
raw at times and glacially mournful at others
with the odd sonority of the koto providing a
unique counterpoint to the more-or-less standard
Free-Jazz blowing. In the final analysis, the exotic
timbral elements and the varied compositions gave
this set a leg up on similar groups plying these
same waters. (David Kane, Cadence Magazine, June 2007)


"an unconventional gathering of sensitive artists..."
Michael Cooke plays all kinds of reeds (in this occasion flute, soprano, alto & tenor sax and soprano & bass clarinet), being also a composer who tries to reach a fusion point between his many influences - which include John Zorn, Klezmer and Indian music - while keeping an attentive eye on the single paths walked by the instrumental entities of his quintet (Jen Baker on trombone, didgeridoo and singing bowl, Shoko Hikage on koto, Alex Kelly on cello and igil, Timothy Orr on drums and percussion). It amounts to a nice effort by an unconventional gathering of sensitive artists, seven tracks for almost 70 minutes of music that explores various themes, not only in music but also life; as a matter of fact, two improvisations ("Loss" and "N 36 7.46' W 121 38.36") are memorials for persons that Cooke loved very much - his two grandmothers and a dear friend - and both are veiled with conscious, pensive sadness. Even the 15-minute final suite, "Chain of existence", is referred to unspecified "personal events" which affected Cooke's growth. These feelings aside, the record brims with pugnacious loquacity alternated with spiritual depth and inquisitive-minded playfulness, helped by the strange timbral juxtapositions of the ensemble. The instrumentalists know their chops inside and out but never for a moment the music sounds manufactured, getting its energy from the very interplay that these akin souls are able to continuously generate and aliment with what I'd call "devotional fantasy". A mouthful of fresh fruit for new jazz aficionados. (Massimo Ricci, April 30, 2007)

Dave Wayne /

"seven original compositions that draw from a dizzyingly eclectic array of sourc
On An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible, multi-reed player and composer Michael Cooke leads a quintet with a highly unlikely instrumentation through seven original compositions that draw from a dizzyingly eclectic array of source materials. Though the quintet’s basic sound could be described as ‘avant-garde jazz’, there are multiple layers in Cooke’s compositions that draw significantly upon different world musics (Klezmer, Northern Indian ragas, Australian Aboriginal music, etc.). The band’s instrumentation includes koto (a traditional Japanese stringed instrument), cello, and igil (a Tuvan stringed instrument) in addition to more typical jazz horns and percussion.

The band members themselves have converged from different musical worlds to play Cooke’s music. Koto player Shoko Hikage is, of course, deeply involved in Japanese traditional music. Cellist Alex Kelly and trombonist Jen Baker both have extensive experience with alternative rock and various forms of classical music – from Baroque to contemporary. The musicians’ depth of experience in diverse settings plays out surprisingly well throughout “An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible”, as Cooke’s music never seems like an eclectic pastiche. Yet, all are convincing improvisors.

They start off with a bang – ‘Hard 8’ opens the CD an impressive blast of post-Ayler free jazz that manages to be both melodic and chaotic. I particularly enjoyed the way Hikage worked her delicate, spidery koto into the interstices between the horns and Tim Orr’s percussive fusillades. ‘Ha-Me’aggel’ is a multi-sectioned, Klezmer-derived piece that frames Kelly’s mournful rubato cello improv between frantically rhythmic sections driven by Cooke’s skirling saxophone and Baker’s droning trombone. Oddly, Orr seems to be a bit lost on the more uptempo parts of this piece, but it all hangs together nonetheless. ‘Harmonic Rebellion’ provides another blast of red-hot free jazz energy, with Cooke’s big-toned tenor riding crashing waves of percussion.

The remainder of the CD is surprisingly atmospheric. ‘Loss’ is a Klezmer-tinged dirge featuring Baker, Kelly and Cooke on bass clarinet. Titled after the coordinates of the site where a late friend’s ashes were scattered, ‘N 36 7.46 W 121 38.36’ is a slow-paced lament that intersperses bursts of heated free improv with more thoughtful ruminations. Orr is particularly effective here. ‘Love At Twilight’ starts out with an extended rubato section which showcases Hikage’s koto, Cooke (on flute), and Kelly’s wonderfully sonorous igil. The piece gets progressively denser and more frenetic as Baker adds buzzing trombone multiphonics and Orr switches from shakers and bells to drumset.

The multi-sectioned closer – ‘Chain of Existence’ – brings the quintet’s disparate ethnic, classical, jazz, and free improv elements together in surprisingly cohesive fashion. In a way, this one compelling piece sums up what Cooke’s music is all about. The combined focus and free-wheeling energy of the free-bopping section of this piece (‘Event II’) and Hikage’s gripping koto solo on ‘Event III’ make it clear where the real strengths of the Cooke Quintet lie. (April 24, 2007)

Marc Medwin - Dusted Magazine, Jan 31, 2007

...this unit boasts great compositions in equally convincing interpretations.
Improvised music, the term woefully and increasingly inadequate, is forced to contend with multiple intertwining histories. For me, post-modern reference and juxtaposition have become less satisfying modes of exploration, mainly due to overuse. I’m always impressed to hear diversity channeled through some sort of overarching compositional vision, nebulous but palpable, that can unify a disc of the most disparate material.

An Indefinite Suspension of the Possible, multi-instrumentalist Michael Cooke’s most recent offering, was an extremely pleasant surprise. Clearly, instrumentation goes some way toward setting the group apart from countless other similar-sized ventures - check the unlikely combination of koto, trombone and cello. Here, my high expectations were validated; while the group’s influences are clearly audible, they are also extremely varied, ranging from the harmolodically drenched in-your-face thrust and drive of “Hard 8” to the meterless Orientalist whispers, metallic rustles and soft moans of “Love at Twilight.”

The way in which sound is presented and group interplay is fostered turns the disc from mere homage to statement. Every player is also a listener, displaying willingness to speak out and to step aside in equal proportion. The sudden drops in volume as soloists switch can be both unnerving and exhilarating, lacking as it is in many “free jazz” settings. Beyond that, the players are obviously engaged with the compositions themselves; when cellist Alex Kelly takes a solo on “Hard 8,” he constructs his line from fragments of the Colemanesque head. Every player is similarly inclined, the koto work of Shoko Hikage being especially noteworthy. Sparse yet bursting with energy, Hikage’s contributions embody the disc’s multivalent roots in every tremoloed and bent utterance. Trombonist Jen Baker was also a revelation, always ready to lend support in lower registers with terrifying swells and rumbles while also an absolutely lyrical soloist.

These musicians have found themselves in excellent company before, but this unit boasts great compositions in equally convincing interpretations. They foster Cooke’s vision, complementing his saxophone, clarinet and flute work with a sonic pallet that is adventurous without succumbing to superficiality.