White & Blue
Buzz ZZ 76011

Anyone contemplating an almost 57 minute CD of trumpet-percussion duets is in the position of a diner sitting down to a whole meal of liver and brussels sprouts. In the hands of the right chef, the simple spread can be mouth-watering and satisfying. But thrown together by someone with less skill as a kitchen magician, you end up with a dry and tasteless repast.

The restaurant review on this CD is mixed. Although head chef Tamura and sous chefs Black and Alexander work hard, the end result is only partially palatable. Perhaps a bit more diversity in the added spices and a variety of preparation methods would have helped the meal.

Tamura himself is no stranger to bare bones sessions. His solo trumpet CD and piano/brass duet with Satoko Fujii garnered good reviews. Moreover, while uncommon, trumpet-percussion duets aren't unknown in jazz. Don Cherry-Ed Blackwell created a couple of exceptional discs a few years ago, most notably with 1982's El Corazon (ECM). But there Cherry played piano, melodica, organ and doussn' gouni as well as trumpet with Monk's "Bemsha Swing" featured along with more abstract pieces.

There's no equivalent "Bemsha"-like haute cuisine on this disc. The 10 Tamura compositions are titled "White & Blue" 1 through, 10, and most seem to have more to do with minimalist novelle cuisine than rib-sticking comfort food.

What leaves the listener hungry in the end is that the trumpeter is so intent on exploring the microtonal and intervallic properties of his horn and his voice that he sometimes forgets that a musical meal is more than artful presentation. Yet the disk is most successful when different tones are introduced into the mix.

On "White & Blue 4", for instance, Tamura voices throat sounds that resemble Mingus' "Passions Of A Man" dialogue on the OH YEAH album, while on "White & Blue 6" it appears that Alexander is banging on water bottles and cymbals placed on the ground, while Tamura alternately chants and plays abbreviated trumpet choruses. "White & Blue 10" even has a swinging, jazz-like beat, part of the time.

A composition's overall success often depends on what percussion seasoning is added to Tamura's lean cuisine. Percussion should mean just that and improvising on anything that can be struck, banged, hit or scratched adds immeasurably to the final meal.

Because brassman Tamura is throwing everything into the pot when he plays, the drummer sous chef must be prepared to respond as quickly. Unfortunately it seems that the duets with Alexander on his half of the disc brings more to the table than the Black duets. Still the best restaurant meal — like the best improvised music — runs the risk of creating an inconsistent product, because inspiration varies with the day and even the hour.

Adventurous listeners should still turn their ears to WHITE & BLACK, especially those who have a preference for either of the two featured instruments. Just open your mind and don't expect to find what isn't there — pretty, restful melodies or finger-snapping rhythms.

Instead Tamura has added his name to those anything-for-a-sound improvisers like Evan Parker and Derek Bailey and by doing so must be allowed to fail as well as triumph. Thus WHITE & BLUE will probably have many people impressed by the presentation, but ending up with their musical hunger only half satisfied. Still the Tamura recipe here suggests that in future a cordon bleu feast may be on the table.

-Ken Waxman

1. White & Blue 1 2. White & Blue 2 3. White & Blue 3 4. White & Blue 4 5. White & Blue 5 6. White & Blue 6 7. White & Blue 7 8. White & Blue 8 9. White & Blue 9 10. White & Blue 10

Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Jim Black or Aaron Alexander (drums, percussion) Cecil Taylor & Tony Oxley at New York City's Tonic

A former kosher winery in Manhattan's multi ethnic Lower East Side became the North American epicenter for improvised music for three days, November 2 to November 4, with the first ever duo performance between two free jazz forefathers.

Tonic, which bills itself as the only musician-curated club in New York, presented six sets of empathetic improvisations from American pianist Cecil Taylor, 71 — who almost single-handedly created Jazz's experimental sound nearly a half century ago — and British percussionist Tony Oxley, 62, who has helped foment a similar European improv movement since the mid-1960s.

The two, who have collaborated on disc and in person over the years easily proved to a standing room only audience — some of whom traveled from as far away as North Carolina, California, Ontario and Michigan to witness the historic concordant — that they've lost none of their prowess. Maturity and focus seem to have intensified their skills, in fact.

Chunky, with a cherubic face framed by shoulder length gray hair, Oxley, in jeans and loose shirt, resembled an aging Prog Rocker. But he quickly demolished that image with his subtle drum shadings. Concentrating on the cymbals, wood block, snares and a unique oversized cowbell, he often used a scythe-like motion of his arms to reach every part of the kit without straining.

Lithe, animated Taylor, with newly cropped hair kept in place with a tight-fitting cap, often swept the keyboard from within the sleeves of voluminous French-cuffed shirts. Sometimes his hands would make gazelle-like leaps over the keys, extracting sounds with his fingertips; other times he'd bend his arms in wing-like sweeps, pummeling the piano with his forearms and elbows. No acrimonious effect, this was rather the controlled physicality of a practiced surgeon. All wasn't bombast, however, during the course of several improvisations, the pianist would briefly introduce miniature snatches of what could have been romantic "classical" music. Occasionally too, he would refer to a score propped on top of the instrument for new paths to follow.

Seemingly as similar as one white on white oil painting appears to resemble another, but with as many complex distinctions as those canvases reveal on closer inspection, each set — which was never shorter than 75 minutes — contained a varying amount of hushed and stentorian passages. Particular ear-wrenching effects came as Oxley stroked his larger cymbal with a drumstick held perpendicular, or whacked the oversized cowbell. Any sound could be utilized as percussion, he proved during the course of the evenings. A singular gesture exposed on the final set was the tone created as he rubbed the two sticks together like a boy scout making a fire. Overall, Oxley seemed to cheerfully follow Taylor's lead, nodding and broadly smiling as a particularly appealing musical idea appeared and was added to the mix.

Each night, Taylor's finger forays were frequently so overpowering that audience members could be seen moving, jerking, squinting, neck craning and finger drumming along with his solos as if they were marionettes responding to invisible strings that radiated from the piano. The effect was utterly mesmerizing.

No words were spoken while performing, but at the completion of each set, as a sly, little boy's grin played across his face, Taylor would move to the center of the stage and acknowledge his partner with a gesture. Oxley would reciprocate, and both men would dab at the perspiration on their faces with hand towels and leave the stage wrung out, but elated.

Stylistically, Oxley now sits at the front of a higher-than-usual drum stool so that he can easily lean forward while he plays. He may do that, yet every night at Tonic it was the audience members who were sitting on the edge of their seats as they watched these two master improvisers at work.

— Ken Waxman