Review Summary: Omar channels the eccentricity of the Free Jazz movement, and though his efforts may be rich with ambition, they don't quite induce an overwhelming level of intrigue upon the listener.
During a discussion about Free Jazz, I remember someone once asked me, "What separates experimentation from complete and utter absurdity"" Sadly, I never had an answer. And the reason is because Jazz has evolved so much over time, with new instruments and concepts constantly being introduced to the genre, that it can be rather difficult for the average listener to determine when a musician is
being experimental and when they aren't
. For a time, Jazz was defined as a harmonic unity of instrumental sounds that focused on the virtuosity of each musician, while managing to operate in a melodious fashion. Though this still holds true even today, various artists began to think outside of that particular philosophy and invented their own conventions, even as they simultaneously disregarded them. Free Jazz is a very dynamic style, it was originally envisioned as a more abstract take on the genre, one emphasizing on collective improvisation that departures from traditional harmony. John Coltrane, one of the leading pioneers in the Free Jazz movement, once said that it didn't matter to him whether the audience understood the logic behind his music, as long as they felt an emotional reaction when they heard it. For them to feel an intimate connection with the sounds his instruments produced. That, in my opinion, really captures the essence of avant-garde music in general, it's all about the experience of it rather than what it is. But sometimes, musicians can get caught up in the ecstasy of ambition that their music loses all sense of coherence and appeal. Of course, the purpose of experimentation is to push boundaries, but just because an album is experimental doesn't necessarily make it art.
Woman Gives Birth To Tomato!
seems to sit comfortably on the dividing line that separates experimentation from absurdity. There are indeed instances of brilliance in this album, but they are at times eclipsed by little moments of misguided artistic directions that just end up bringing everything down. The opening piece, "Bayamón Puerto Rico" does a great job of depicting the nature of the album. Erupting with a dissonant release of static, the song starts to elevate with some bombastic drum patterns from Deantoni Parks, which is then embellished with occurrences of spontaneity from a piano that seems to follow no particular rhythm or melodic framework. In fact, there is no real order here. These two primary instruments seem to exist in a chaotic space filled with nothing else more than cloudy synthesizer noises for added obscurity. It's difficult to determine what exactly it is that Omar is doing here as the music seems to run around freely with no sense of restrictions, but you do feel something- though not an emotion, just confusion. The music's disorienting atmosphere leave us bewildered, merely pondering as to what Omar is trying to convey here. With so much happening around us, so much to perceive and ponder, that it's tough to develop an emotion or even an opinion because you don't understand what you're listening to. It's just the experience of pure anarchy. It's interesting, to say the least, but it isn't captivating.
"El Paso Texas" is one of the three major epics of the album, and definitely one of its highlights. This piece is lengthier, but much more coherent than the last. The song's framework is held together by a repetitive electronic beat, and though all of the other instruments that augment its rhythm seem to come and go as they please, there is a conspicuous synergy amongst the musicians that gives the song an ironic sense of harmony. The saxophone, as wells the string instruments, viola and cello, play a rather prominent role in this piece. They remain mostly in the background and perform in an unorthodox fashion, but they do add a bizarre ambience of surrealism to the mix. The saxophone solos are exquisite throughout "El Paso Texas", particularly the calming notes of the midsection which is also decorated with some very moving piano arrangements. This is one of the moments in the album where Omar actually gets everything right, and reaches an impressive level of creativity as a composer. The latter part of the song is explosive and just absolutely mesmerizing, as it variates from outbursts of virtuosity to an eerie calm. But the pinnacle within the entirety of Woman Gives Birth To Tomato!
is certainly "Amsterdam Holland", the second epic in the album. This song is about as close as the album gets to being euphonic, and because of it, it's the most well-conceived piece here. Deantoni Parks actually deploys a conventional rhythmic framework, which allows saxophonist Adrián Terrazas-González to take the spotlight and simply shine. As usual, "Amsterdam Holland" is overwhelmed with psychedelic synthesizer flourishes, but instead of merely being there to add a trippy vibe, they actually vitalize the music in a way that adds to the trancing aura. The whole song is haunting and enigmatic, but not at all in a way that alienates the listener. In fact, "Amsterdam Holland" is rather magnetic, it exudes such a fascinating allure that has the power to completely consume the listener within its marvel if given the chance.
Overall, Woman Gives Birth To Tomato!
presents itself as a decent effort that could have had the potential to be great. While it is certainly a host to several instances of wondrous musical splendor, they are at times accompanied by too many bad ideas that could have just as easily spoiled them. One of the major problems in the album is that it takes too long in establishing ambiences and mood, which wouldn't be such a negative thing if the destinations that they ascend to were worth the wait. The jam breaks in most of the songs usually have very little to offer. As loud and erratic as the musicianship may be, they seldom leave us in awe. It's really just eruptions of seemingly random notes that appear to sound vigorous as a means to obscure the fact that the notes being played are actually nothing special at all. It's as if the band thinks that by bombarding the listener with polyrhythms and extended impromptu soloing, we'll applaud them for their grandiosity and not notice how played out this insane style gets before most of the songs even end. Aside from the saxophone and piano solos, all of the other instruments feel excruciatingly forced at times. This album really just sounds like Omar put very little thought into its production. It's as if he had a sudden burst of random ideas and then arranged them together as an attempt to act like he's make an artistic statement about Free Jazz. Though as I said before, just because something sounds experimental doesn't make it artistic. Again, it's indeed a solid effort and the notes are well-played, but the songs just don't satisfy the listener.
This is hardly the first time that Omar has fused Jazz with Progressive and Math rock elements, and though these genres welcome unorthodox song structures and capricious moods, Omar tends to take advantage of that and uses it as an excuse to indulge in his usual obsessions with atypical rhythm and overly complicated arrangement of sounds. Though instead of orchestrating an enrapturing chaotic environment, like that in say, John Coltrane's Ascension
, it all just ends up sounding disorganized because there's no meaning behind it. Ascension
, for example, was an attempt to return jazz to its primitive state, in the sense that every aspect of the music was extemporaneously conceived. Every note, every ambience, and every movement was formulated by pure instinct that was beyond a conscious level. Imagination reigned over preparation, and it was a spectacle filled suspense and wonder. Ascension
was a revolution recorded into an album that questioned all pivotal conventions and helped bring new perspective to Jazz. Though here, there's is no purpose. There is no statement being made here that drives the chaos, it's just chaos. Which could be forgiven if there was some type of concept inspring all of this, but the majority of this album's content has as much coherence behind it as its title. With the exception of pieces like "Amsterdam Holland", there really is no desire to play most of the songs again after listening to them during the initial run. Omar certainly succeeded in channeling the eccentricity of the Free Jazz movement, but unfortunately he wasn't able to retrieve the same dazzling charm that artists like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane brought to their music.