Nothing Is Permanent But Woe
Foghorn Records FOG CD 002

Maybe if someone has contacts in the spirit world, we may able to find out if Adrian Rollini is smiling or rotating in his grave. Rollini (1904-1956) was jazz's best-known — and practically only — bass saxophone player during his heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. Since then this bulky giant, pitched an octave below the tenor saxophone, usually only makes an appearance as a huffing, puffing replacement for the tuba in Dixieland combos.

At least, that is until British saxophonist Tony Bevan adapted the bass sax as his horn of choice in 1994. Since then, the former tenor saxophonist, who was born about one month after Rollini died, has literally had his hands full. For a start he created a niche for the unwieldy beast in ad hoc groupings with the likes of sound singer Phil Minton, composer/pianist Steve Beresford and other members of the open minded U.K. improv community. Then in 1998, he had the audacity to release a CD made up of nothing but bass sax solos.

As much a crusader as his countryman Richard the Lionhearted, Bevan is sticking with his horn of choice and has just come up with this exceptional trio session. Listening to the disc proves that his agility with the monster horn is such that it often seems as if he's playing a baritone or even one of the junior members of the saxophone family.

While he doesn't neglect the subterranean rumble that can tumble from his instrument, he can, as he demonstrates on track 2, construct entire passages in the altoissimo range. Leaping from one edge of the scale to the other with ease, he always creates full-bodied improvisations, perhaps aided by the elongated size of his bell.

And that's not the limit of how he's trained his favored woodwind. During the course of the session, he demonstrates its versatility by producing sounds that resemble birdcalls, a didjeridoo, an underwater oxygen tank and, by using split tones, two or three pitches at once.

Throughout, he's aided by the inventiveness of bassist John Edwards and percussionist Mark Sanders, who over the past little while have become the "outside" Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb for 21st Century British improvisers. Such outstanding saxophonists as Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall and Elton Dean have already benefited from their talents and they bring a cohesive teamwork and empathy to this date.

On track 4, for instance, while the saxman swirls out a constant stream of legato lines — which literally sound as if they're being played by a baritone saxophone — Edwards counters with string pulling intensity from his axe. Or listen to track 3, where the saxman's sepulchral tone is matched with the funeral sound of mallets hitting cymbals. Often the three operate at an exciting level of breakneck interaction that gives new meaning to the phrase swinging intensity. It's obvious that none is at lost for ideas during the more than 69-minute session.

Perhaps Adrian Rollini (RIP) is smiling after all.

— Ken Waxman

Personnel: Tony Bevan (bass saxophone) John Edwards (bass) Mark Sanders (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Nothing Is Permanent But Woe 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.