Transition & Transformation
Nine Winds NWCD 0242

Labels mean almost nothing when it comes to improvised music. And this excellent CD of "outside" chamber jazz demonstrates this without question.

To the casual jazz fan, journeyman pianist Mike Wofford may have made his mark as music director for Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan or as sideman with mainstreamers like drummer Shelly Manne and saxophonists Teddy Edwards and Bud Shank. Bassist Bertram Turetzky, senior professor of music at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) on the other hand, is usually found on the so-called legit side of the fence as the most frequently recorded contrabass soloist in America. An academic, Turetzky, whose master classes have been referred to as "life-altering", also wrote The Contemporary Contrabass, which is regarded as a classic in the field.

Yet, with this disc, these veteran Californians have created an object lesson of what a duo session plus should sound like without fanfare, speechifying or someone dubbing them Young Lions or POMO Downtowners. As for the title, "plus" makes clear that on a few of the compositions, the two are joined by the bassist's UCSD confrere, trombonist George Lewis, vocalist Kristin Korb, and three cellists.

The main performers' skill is such that they can turn Oscar Pettiford's hoary bop anthem "Tamalpais" into a delicate concertino with Wofford adding a light dusting of whole notes to the tune and Turetzky providing the subterranean bowed counterpoint. As a student of jazz history, it's likely he who arranged the unique treatment of that tune, Charles Mingus' "Eclipse" — with its suitably sorceress-like vocal from Korb — and the two Thelonious Monk compositions.

To examine one — at the beginning of "Mysterioso", as Lewis explores the insides of his horn and the bassist and pianist seem to be picking at random notes, it appears as if this will merely be an abstract exercise. Glacially the theme finally emerges from the piano, and is then amplified by the trombonist's slide plus a patchwork quilt of arco bass embellishments.

It's the improvised dialogues that define this disc however. Wofford may be a mainstreamer but he has also performed Morton Feldman's solo piano music and, at this point, Turetzky's many sessions of pure improv flow like water under his bass bridge. Some have been in the company of multi-reedist Vinny Golia, including the exceptional TRIGNITION (Nine Winds NWCD 0221), where expatriate free bassist Barre Phillips joins the fray.

On this disc, however the five "short subjects" are so concise that they merely allow you to note the formidable technique that enlightens your ear canal. "Slow Movement" and "A Heated Discussion" on the other hand are more palatable propositions. Working with Lewis' vocalized horn, muted and not, on the first tune, Wofford scurries both inside and outside the piano, while Turetzky moves from strummed notes to echoed arco tones. The later title is a misnomer since the pianist's fingers seem to be happily leaping over the keyboard as the bassist changes tempo a few times, using his bow not only to string along a basso counter melody but also to beat a few extra sounds out of the instrument. A heated embrace may have been a more appropriate appellation.

Tying up loose ends, note that the cellists don't make much of an impression. They're probably on "Eclipse", but elsewhere anything they may have produced could easily be ascribed to Turetzky's fingers.

To sum up, labels are better for telling you the name of the record company than to describe the work of multi-faceted musicians like these.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. A major Decision 2. Tamalpais 3. A Heated Discussion 4. Eclipse^ 5. Mysterioso* 6. Short Subject I 7. Short Subject II 8. Short Subject III 9. Ugly Beauty 10. Paper Trail 11. TRT 12. Slow Movement* 13. Vocalese

Personnel: George Lewis (trombone*); Mike Wofford (piano); Bertram Turetzky (bass); Glen Campbell, Mary Lindblom, Lorie Kirkell (cellos); Kristin Korb (vocals^)