The heart sinks a little at the threat of a concept suite celebrating the span of human history, then bucks a little with the thought that there have been some very good ones: Mingus's Pithecanthropus Erectus, Grachan Moncur III's Evolution, George Russell's The African Game...
This latest attempt, written in emulation of Buddy Rich's epic suites, actually only occupies the first 10 minutes of a long and richly varied CD and seems relatively modest in its ambitions, drawing its most obvious inspira-
tion from Wilfred Lam's jungle canvases. The immediately striking thing is how confidently Waldrop and collaborators Jack Cooper (Suite, Sheath And Sword), Jimi Tunnell (Mouzon) and Gerald Stockton (Doppler Effect) write and arrange for a drummer-led ensemble that has comfortably assimilated squally electric guitar and bass, plus chorused and processed vocals into a basic big band formation. Items such as Mouzon, with the dedicatee remembered in Weather Report rather than Eleventh House mode, put the horns at a discount in favour of full-choke electric fusion. Tunnell's guitar and vocal effects - already prominently featured in the opening sequence - and Scott Kinsey's piano or synth dominate the foreground, but it is Waldrop who provides the real energy, here as elsewhere. Interestingly, he sidelines himself somewhat on Vasconcelos, another obvious
musical parent, in favour of Brad Dutz's percussion. An effective rather than virtuosic vibes player, Waldrop uses his second instrument for pianistic melody lines.
Then, just when you're thinking of reaching for the volume knob to put distance between yourself and another electric storm, Doo Dat Tang shimmies into the room, full swing-band dynamics with a hard-bop core. Waldrop
doesn't parade his eclecticism. It just seems to come naturally to him, which is why a set that could have seemed impossibly bitty and unstructured, whatever its episodic excitements, actually works beautifully as a unit and maintains an impressive head of steam for well over an hour. As the huge personnel implies, though the actual record in no way betrays, Origin Suite was recorded in many different locations and on different dates, with a shifting personnel and much use of overdubs. It's remarkable how seamless and entire it all sounds. A very impressive project and one to shelve among the keepers, alongside Waldrop's fine earlier Time Within Itself.