The opening notes on “Figure No. 2” are daggers. Darius Jones lays his soul bare on Raw Demoon Alchemy (A Lone Operation), plumbing the depths of five pieces from five different artists and turning each into a reflection of modern despair and the surprising tendrils of hopefulness the darkness inspires. Jones’s performance is incandescent in both technical prowess and, especially, in the powerful emotions woven throughout.
Back to the opener, “Figure No. 2,” Jones takes this Georgia Anne Muldrow composition and strips it to bone. Sharp edges line each note with Jones laying into the howling passages with a restrained furor. It’s like he’s holding back an ocean, letting as many blood drops out into the open as he can without the whole dam breaking. That restraint is full of emotive tension that sets the intention of Raw Demoon Alchemy and is a window to the vulnerability Jones shows throughout.
For a saxophone player of Jones’s pedigree, taking on pieces by Roscoe Mitchell and Ornette Coleman makes sense, but I was blindsided by the heartbreak-strewn sonic wreckage of “Beautiful Love.” Imbued in these stinging, stretched passages is a belief that standing stridently in the face of this bleak moment will lead to something better. There’s a feeling in these various runs that the dam is breaking, but Jones is determined to find a deeper, stronger power for reinforcement. The resonant quality of this recording – done in October 2019 at Holocene in Portland, Oregon – adds to the veracity of its message and that rings crystal clear on “Beautiful Love.”
Coleman’s “Sadness” mines similar territory as “Figure No. 2,” moving at different angles as the sun disappears behind a darkening cloud. Jones holds and bends notes in ways that sound as though they’re being extracted through some kind of harrowing surgical procedure that leaves his heart open and bare on the operating table. He takes that unguarded edge and twists it into something a little brighter on Mitchell’s “Nonaah.” The repeating patterns dance in unexpected ways, a glimmer of light seeping in.
Raw Demoon Alchemy sits steadfast in uncomfortable spaces. Jones is undeterred, pouring his entire being into this performance. Coming to a bellowing and purifying close with Sun Ra’s crucial “Love in Outer Space,” Jones steers us in the right direction, looking forward over the blooming expanse of what is possible. Raw Demoon Alchemy leaves nothing on the table and nobody behind determined to keep moving ahead. What an incredible record.
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