Caleb Wheeler-Curtis: Heatmap

Altoist leads quartet with Orrin Evans, Eric Revis and Gerald Cleaver in a set alternating tumultuous free improvisation with ballads


Wheeler-Curtis wrote all this music as a MacDowell Fellow in the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 2021. He wrote 10 originals which he plays on alto saxophone except for one track on soprano.

The music – freeish, with shades of Ornette Coleman – follows a pattern, planned or accidental, of one uptempo selection followed by a slow ballad. This continues through to the final track, Spheres, which jogs along with hard, free alto solos played against Evans’ ostinato. The leader plays a fairly jagged series of vibrato-free alto lines on all six fast songs although he exhibits a soft, lyrical approach to the ballads particularly on Limestone and Trees For The Forest.

The rhythm section is well integrated with a thrusting drive supplied by piano, bass and drums. Evans plays most of the interesting, creative solo lines on piano, but he does not get many opportunities. The alto is front and centre throughout. Drummer Cleaver is solid in support, and it is his inventive playing on all the uptempo tracks that drives this music forward relentlessly.

C(o)urses has much agitation in the alto choruses suggesting this piece is more curses than courses. Whisperchant is a delicate, smooth ballad and just a little out of synchronisation with the rest of the programme. 

Heatmap; Tossed Aside; Surrounding; Limestone; Splinters; Trees For The Forest; Trembling; Whisperchant; C(o)urses; Spheres (51.28)
Wheeler-Curtis (as, ss); Orrin Evans (p); Eric Revis (b); Gerald Cleaver (d). NYC, 20 July 2021. 
Imani Records 00001