Mark Isham’s program Thursday night at the Palace provided a fascinating juxtaposition between the not-always-compatible jazz fusion and film scoring skills of this gifted trumpeter/composer.
Isham’s fusion pieces tended to blend into each other. Most made extensive use of dense, synthesized sound, Steve Reich-like repetitions and occasional bursts of rock rhythm energy. The musical territory they staked out lay somewhere between the funk-driven abstractions of Miles Davis’ current band and the highly textured meanderings of Herb Alpert’s recent recordings.
If the stellar rhythm team of Terry Bozzio, David Torn, Mick Karns, Kurt Wortman and David Goldblatt didn’t quite achieve the urgent passions of the Davis group, Isham’s compositions, with their marvelously rich densities, reached far beyond the surface fripperies of Alpert’s work.
But when Isham picked up his trumpet and fluegelhorn, the analogy persisted. His most recurring stylistic element was a gussied-up version of Davis’ ethereal, Harmon mute sound--imitative, perhaps, but at least with a respectable model. Isham’s playing was far less appealing when he removed the mute and reverted to the Alpert specialty of long reverb-laden bleats above a churning rhythm section.
Curiously, however, Isham’s film music--especially “Les Modernes” and “Parlez-Moi d’Amour” from his score for “The Moderns"--had a much stronger sense of uniqueness. Both created a startlingly atmospheric feeling of time and place, as all good film music should. But they also possessed an edge of personality, a feeling of creative presence that was often lacking or reduced to minimal significance in his fusion pieces.