The Microscopic Septet album

Manhattan Moonrise


Micro resThe past is a big place filled with music. Some players cling to it like a security blanket; others fool themselves that they can invent new sounds out of thin air. The smart ones use the past as a resource: an infinite library from which to steal any number of hooks and probably make a clean getaway. But borrowing from the past is different to wallowing in it, and hip modernity springs from the subtlest tweak of something old.

That’s the game the Microscopic Septet plays. Although you might variously hear echoes of Duke Ellington, Sun Ra or Louis Jordan, the compositions by pianist Joel Forrester and soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston suddenly dart up unforeseen alleys, like the past is chasing with sirens screaming. Even more than the compositional quirks what ensures their escape is the players’ characters oozing from the music, and it’s a fun ooze. Now, 34 years on, the Microscopics have their own past to cannibalise; their own bones to spit out. The result? One of the most distinctive sounds in contemporary jazz.