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Xylyn Hathaway's new album "Air & Darkness" release: April 20, 2024 : Preview/review

By MICHAEL "SHOEHORN" CONLEY //  Hathaway will celebrate the release of this recording on Saturday, April 20th at 8:00 p.m. at Blue Butler studios in Portland, where the recording was made. The album is available on CD, which this writer feels is still a very viable way to present and distribute a collection of tunes such as this.

The new Xylyn Hathaway album Air & Darkness is a pianoless quintet outing featuring bassist Hathaway, with George Colligan on drums, James Powers on trombone, Quinn Walker on trumpet, and Wyck Malloy on tenor sax. The album ranges between “old school- free jazz”, once called the new thing, and leans into some hard bop later on in the program.

Hatahawy opens with "The Air That Binds Us:", which like much of the album, evokes a strong Ornette Coleman vibe. After an opening statement with the three horns, Hathaway and Colligan engage in a duet with the bass running free, leading into the first solo by Quinn Walker. There is a nice moment on this opening number at the end of Walker’s solo where he compresses and attenuates his tone to something far from a conventional jazz trumpet sound while another somewhat unrecognizable timbre emerges underneath him ( is it percussion, like a cuica? electronics?) before announcing itself as the trombone of James Powers, similarly distorted, before easing into a more characteristic, brassy roundness after the handoff.

Powers has emerged as one of the city's more popular trombonists, working with Hathaway and also touring with Portland's hip professional big band March Fourth. He also gigs occasionally with looping maestra Jetty Swart, pianist/composer Gordon Lee, and made a guest appearance on a recent release by the Portland band the Blue Cranes.

Moving on, we have some contrasting approaches and feels to enjoy. There is track 3, titled "My Old House," which follows the contours of a traditional blues, but without the typical chording instruments such as guitar or keyboard the turnaround is a little slippery in the harmonic sense. Having three horns grounds the music a little more than the aforementioned Coleman’s pianoless quartet, thickening the mix with shifting timbres.

I particularly like the cheerful hard bop of track #4, "Killer Kolligan," presumably a tribute to the musician who has carved out such a huge presence in the local music community. Track #5, "Seeking the Monolith," has a free-for-all element right out of the gate, with no one holding back. While the horns play longer notes (with a multiphonic on the tenor reminiscent of the late NW sax great Bert Wilson) the drums and bass chop through it with lots of energy and movement, ending with a single hit on a tom. It is emblematic of this quintet’s refreshing swagger.

One of the salient observations I have about this record and the mostly younger musicians on it is that we often hear such players in the context of traditional settings like university big bands and straight-ahead jam sessions. In those settings, the parameters are pretty much fixed within the traditions. While those traditions are valuable, useful, and cherished, they aren't always the most transparent vehicles for showing what these artists are capable of.
There is a tendency among seasoned musicians to describe other artists in comparison to more established cats, saying things like “He's a combination of Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin if Johnny Griffin took too much acid in the 60s”.

Basically, non-sequiturs, but people in the know might be able to identify certain influences in a player based on their tone, their lines, or their time feel. (Such as tracing a lineage between Lester Young and Stan Getz)

I'm not going to attempt that with these players. All three wind players exhibit a personal command of their instrument's capabilities for swinging, squawking, purring, and various subtle shadings of tonal nuance. There's a solid core in each of their sounds which enables them to manipulate the tone to create various and disparate effects to serve the music. And Hathaway doesn’t sound like anyone else on the deep local bass bench, using the instrument as a liberated lead voice untethered to timekeeping responsibilities.

Aside from composer/producer/bass player Hathaway, I will venture to say that drummer George Colligan is the binding agent that holds this record together, specifically his ride cymbal, on many of these songs. Colligan is older than the other players and has mentored and taught many musicians in the community on numerous gigs and also in his capacity as a professor at Portland State University.

Widely known as a pianist with more famous artists such as Jack Dejohnette, Colligan also plays trumpet and bass. He can often be found in local clubs and also makes forays to the East Coast and Europe to appear in storied venues and festivals. He has also done exhaustive testing of cymbals and snare drums, which he posted on his social media, and that research has brought fruitful results, as evidenced by his dialed-in sound on this recording.
Hathaway himself is a versatile player who plays straight-ahead gigs with local drummer and jazz jam impresario Ron Steen, often appearing on Wednesday evenings at Wilf’s supper club with Steen's band backing up jazz vocalists.

The compositions on Air & Darkness form a wonderful armature for each band member to sculpt their own contributions to this work. This recording has so much going for it, and I want to congratulate Xylyn Hathaway on this achievement.

Hathaway will celebrate the release of this recording on Saturday, April 20th at 8:00 p.m. at Blue Butler studios in Portland, where the recording was made. The album is available on CD, which this writer feels is still a very viable way to present and distribute a collection of tunes such as this. Not only is the suite of songs grouped in a cohesive format, but by purchasing the CD the listener does much more to support the artist in an age of very slim payouts from streaming services.

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