CD Review: Altus, Mythos

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Altus, a quintet comprising trumpeter Dave Adewumi, bassist Isaac Levien, saxophonists Nathan Reising and Neta Raanan, and drummer Ryan Sands, has embarked on a remarkable musical odyssey with their debut album “Mythos.” Released on the esteemed Biophilia Records label, founded by acclaimed pianist Fabian Almazan, this nine-track offering is a captivating exploration of the Greek myth of Prometheus and the Yoruba myth of Oludumare.

At the core of “Mythos” lies a profound interweaving of two ancient myths, each rich in symbolism and resonance. The Greek tale of Prometheus, the Titan who defied the gods by gifting humanity with fire, and the Yoruba myth of Oludumare, the supreme deity who bestowed creation upon the Orishas, serve as the conceptual foundation for this ambitious project.

Adewumi and Levien, the co-founders of Altus, have skillfully woven these mythological narratives into a tapestry of original compositions, each piece representing a different facet of the overarching themes of creation, power, struggle, and love. As the musicians explain, “Whether a composition is co-written or brought in by one of us, it belongs to the band as a whole once it is added to our repertoire. We view this as an act of distributing power. As such, we embody the myths, acting as the catalyst for the creation of music, community, and mythology.”

The album opens with “Embrace,” a composition by Adewumi that serves as an introduction to the central theme of love. As the composer notes, “This is a musical embrace among the band and the listeners and sets the tone for the rest of the album.” The piece invites the listener into the world of Altus, a community of musicians trading melodies and accompanying one another in a harmonious exchange.

Levien’s “Fire Drill” and “Innocence and After” delve into the Promethean myth, exploring the duality of creation and destruction, passion and consumption. The former, with its muted trumpet and rich three-horn textures, evokes the primal power of fire, while the latter, a “ballad of mourning,” contemplates the rift between humanity and nature that arose from Prometheus’s gift.

Adewumi’s “Origin” draws inspiration from African drumming traditions, with the central rhythm based on the rhythms of Oludumare played by talking drummers. The three horns take on the role of mortals becoming Orishas through their improvisations, each representing a different aspect of creation: the sky symbolizing freedom, the land representing resilience, and fire embodying power.

One of the album’s standout tracks is “Lay of the Land,” a collective improvisation that has become a tradition for Altus during their live performances. As Levien explains, “It is a practice in listening, between one band member to the other, and a practice of feeling, between the band and the audience. This act embraces the unknown and the change from performance to performance. It is part of our own mythology as our community of listeners will experience a unique ‘Lay of the Land’ with every performance.”

The album’s closing pieces, “Kill the Masters” and “Revolt” by Adewumi, tell a story of power struggle among the Orishas, culminating in the unintended consequence of bestowing love, the source of Oludumare’s power, upon humanity. This narrative arc is punctuated by the band passing around a melody, a final statement as a community and a singular entity.

Throughout “Mythos,” the band strikes a skillful balance between the through-composed material and improvisation, allowing each musician to explore while remaining grounded in the album’s conceptual framework. Levien’s “The Last Gift” and “Mountain March” exemplify this approach, with the former featuring an unstructured improvisation between drums and saxophone to convey the introduction of new power to people, and the latter depicting Prometheus’s ascent to eternal punishment through an evolving groove and horn cries.

“Mythos” is a compelling statement that rises above mere entertainment. By weaving together ancient myths, rich cultural traditions, and the innovative spirit of jazz, Altus has created a work that invites a journey of contemplation. The album’s success lies not only in the strong performances but also in its ability to provoke thought and emotion. Through their exploration of timeless themes and their embrace of the unknown, Altus has crafted a truly mythical musical experience that resonates long after the final notes have faded.

David Adewumi – trumpet, composition | Isaac Levien – bass, compositions | Neta Raanan – tenor saxophone \ Nathan Reising – alto saxophone | Ryan Sands – drums and cymbals

Track Listing:
1 – Embrace | 2 – Lay of the Land | 3 – Origin | 4 – Fire Drill | 5 – Innocence and After | 6 – The Last Gift | 7 – Mountain March | 8 – KTM | 9 – Revolt

Release Date: June 7, 2024
Format: CD | Streaming
Label: Biophilia Records

Last modified: July 10, 2024