April 7, 2000
For 4 Ears CD 1036
Irish-born, Swiss resident John Wolf Brennan is the very epitome of the 21st century musician. He's a pianist and composer who has written music for media ranging from installations and acoustical environments, to jazz and classical orchestras, dance companies, chamber ensembles plus a vocal-improv setting of contemporary poetry.
Unlike earlier crossovers, like André Previn, he doesn't put his work into separate compartments, but brings the same conviction to every project. That said, EN.TROPO.LOGY is Brennan's "jazz" album. It succeeds so spectacularly well because his partners here are two of the most accomplished standard bearers of the British branch of European improvisation.
Clear-toned tenor saxophonist Picard is an integral part of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, while veteran percussionist Prévost was one of the first to evolve a particular non-American improv language with the formation of the group AMM in 1966.
To say the pianist "fits in" is an understatement; he's a equal partner throughout. Frequently, in fact, during the almost 69 minutes of this session, there are times sound arises which can't be attributed to any particular instrument. It's the creation of this organic timbre that isolates the best improv from other types of music.
Picard, the least celebrated of the three, should rectify that situation with this CD. A lighter, less abstract player than other British saxists in the idiom, he favors long, breathy lines. Yet on pieces like "Multiplicity" his hard, single-note attack reminds you of the classic Coltrane quartet sans bassist.
Prévost, of course, is a marvel, one minute concentrating on the resonance of a bass drum, the next executing a perfect continuous drum roll on "Exactituide", later figuring out how the tone produced when one drumstick strikes the side of a snare should be utilized. As for Brennan, he produces little jazzy fills behind the saxophonist on tunes like "A Talk On The Wild Side"; breakneck near boogie woogie sounds on "Exactitude" and on other tracks transforms a prepared piano into what could pass for harpsichord études.
The key thing to remember, of course, is that in non-hierarchical music like this, no one is the leader and no one is the follower, which can be gleaned by the co-composition credits on all tracks.
If there's anything negative that can be said about the disc, it could fall under the truth-in-packaging rubric. Brennan describes the final six pieces as a suite for the new millennium. But the tunes don't appear to adhere to one another any more than they do to earlier ones — although musically that's no drawback.
EN.TROPO.LOGY is a memorable outing for all concerned. A showcase for a saxophonist too often cast in secondary roles, a glimpse of a drummer outside of his long-running ensemble, and a chance for Brennan to expose his jazz/improv chops. It's definitely worth tracking down.
- Ken Waxman
Tracks: 1. Liquid Vision 2. Mr. Vertigo 3. Trill Thrill: New Vibrations For An Old Galaxy 4. A Certain Surprising Intimacy 5. A Talk On The Wild Side 6. The Science Of Sonic Poetry; Six Memos For the New Millennium 7. 1 - Lightness 8. 2- Quickness 9. 3- Exactitude 10. 4 - Visibility 11. 5- Multiplicity 12. 6 - Consistency (Coda)
Personnel: Simon Picard (tenor saxophone); John Wolf Brennan (piano, prepared piano, live electronics); Eddie Prévost (drums, percussion)