December 18, 2000
A Tree Frog Tonality
between the lines 008/EFA 10178-2
Mainstay of the long running String Trio of New York, John Lindberg has an obvious affinity for chamber jazz. But that's not his only outlet. A multi-skilled bassist who was recording with the likes of Jimmy Lyons and Anthony Braxton while still in his early twenties, away from the String Trio, he tries to perform in different combinations as often as possible.
An aural souvenir of one of those excursions, TREE FROG, finds Lindberg in a classic free jazz setting with three other improv veterans. An AACM member, West Coast-based trumpeter Smith has added Ratafarianism and academics to his outlook over the years. Bay area saxophonist Larry Ochs is a founding member of the ROVA quartet, while Andrew Cyrille helped "invent" free drumming during his tenure with Cecil Taylor in the 1960s and 1970s.
Perhaps because of the 17 days they'd just spent together touring Europe, the four don't sound anything like a pick up band here and the session ends up being one of Lindberg's finer discs. As a mater of fact, to use an overused metaphor, the combined talents of the men make the CD sound as if it's actually the product of a much larger aggregation.
Slinky, steady and sprightly are three of the adjectives that can be applied to many of the tunes on the disc. If Smith's muted trumpet is upfront, as it is on "Good To Go," for instance, the conception would probably even impress a listener who thinks the epitome of small group jazz is Miles Davis' classic 1956 quintet.
None of the players is backwards looking like the musical neo cons. But if a muted trumpet tone is going to work in a particular situation, Smith is going to use it, whether it reminds folks of the 1950s or not. And if Lindberg on "Mellow T." feels that he should pluck his bass à la Pops Foster, he'll do so, even if Pops' style is less fashionable in some circles than, say Stanley Clarke's. On the other hand, if Ochs, for example, feels that false fingering or triple tonguing suits his purposes, he'll do so on any composition. And damn the consequences or complaints.
The title tune itself can serve as an object lesson as to how this group operates. One of the many here that changes time and tempo during the course of the performance, the composition features lots of woody, upfront bass work, Smith's alternating trumpet squeals and burnished open horn, some overblowing from Ochs and super-subtle filigree ornamentation from Cyrille.
Proving throughout that one doesn't have to be loud to make a point, Cyrille finds a better use for brushes than did Mr. Fuller, and gets a much more satisfactory result from them.
Able to succeed on its own terms, TREE FROG should impress followers of any of the musicians. Additionally, while it's no neo-Swing foot tapper, it will also impress those who ordinarily shy away from non-traditional players like these.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Thanksgiving Suite I. At Home II. Mellow T. III. Dreaming At... 2. Four Fathers 3. Drifter 4. A Tree Frog Tonality 5. Good To Go 6. Little m and Big M
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Larry Ochs (sopranino and tenor saxophones); John Lindberg (bass); Andrew Cyrille (drums)