July 16, 2001
Phil Hargreaves has gone from Bonehouse to bone crushing in four years, and his music sounds even better for it. Four years after recording as one-half of the improv duo Bonehouse with guitarist Phil Morton, the Liverpool, England-based reedist appears as one-third of the co-op band, amer3. A reeds-bass-drums free jazz power trio, he's dispensed with guitar and effects in favor of a rough, jolting, but still sympathetic essay in the whys and wherefores of up to date BritImprov.
Partners in this bumpy ride are Suffolk, England-based bassist and composer Simon H. Fell, an old hand in this context, having performed in similar groups usually with fire breathing baritonist Alan Wilkinson; and Hargreaves' fellow Liverpudlian, drummer Rob Dainton. All three have some shared history, having participated in the Frakture Big Band's renditions of Fell and Hargreaves compositions.
Leaving his composer's hat at home, Fell instead works to integrate his lines within this democratic trio. Telepathy is the order of the day, for the session works well enough to invite comparison with discs created by the longstanding Evan Parker-Barry Guy-Paul Lytton trio with the same instrumentation.
The skills of the other two are acknowledged, so discovery of the date would have to be the underrecorded Dainton. Within the combo context he can use his kit to suggest African hand drums as he does on both parts of "Katsura", utilize drum rolls to maintain the tempo as in "Madrona", and on "Rauli", push along the tune with bass drum accents and cymbal suggestions. Throughout he appears to exploit cymbal tones more than most other so-called free percussionists.
A commanding bass researcher, Fell seems to prefer his bow to his fingers on most of these tracks. Then again with it he's easily able to keep a constant sawing backdrop moving. Conversely on "Gean", he puts aside some menacing low pitched rumbles to mix the instrument's highest tones with Hargreaves soprano saxophone yelps to such an extent, that it's often difficult to tell which notes have been blown and which fingered. Otherwise, he can turn around and complete "Katsura Part 1" with a serene, finalized basso thump.
Seemingly reveling in having such simpatico comrades, Hargreaves has plenty of room for saxophone sleight-of-hand. "Katsura Part 2", for instance, begins to resemble an African rite with tenor sax false fingering, than dart and hide attacks, aided and abetted from what could be a rub board bass and "little instrument" showcases. "Rauli" on the other hand relies more on tart, double-tongued soprano saxophone mini-breaths, while "Deodar", after a slow start of slap tongued tones builds up a full throttle head of steam on tenor, though the truncated ending could have been improved on.
If there's any misstep on the disc it's "Coigue", which unrolls at such low volume that you have to boost the sound at lest four times to hear anything. When you do, though, the tune with its cymbal scrapes and saxophone asides seems to be moving in a straight line like a heart monitor showing a patient near death. More inventiveness could have suggested louder sonics. Right now, if listened to at the same volume as the rest of the disc, it appears to be little more than four minutes of Cagean silence.
This forest of one aberration can easily be separated from the quality of TREES, though. The rest of the foliage certainly presents an attractive wood lot of serviceable improv lumber.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Deodar 2. Gean 3. Katsura Part 1 4. Katsura Part 2 5. Hiba 6. Rauli 7. Coigue 8. Madrona
Personnel: Phil Hargreaves (soprano and tenor saxophones); Simon H. Fell (bass); Rob Dainton (drums)