V: Solo Improvisations
Umbrella Records 026

Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1135

Shortly before the sessions that produced his CD of saxophone duets with Anthony Braxton on his own Barely Auditable label, Chicago-based Scott Rosenberg went Braxton one better with these solo improvisations for contrabass clarinet, flute and sopranino saxophone.

Of course, Braxton’s FOR ALTO from 1968 still remains the benchmark against which all subsequent improv-based solo reed sessions have to be measured. He was first —or at least the first to be audacious about putting out an entire solo LP — and he deserves all the subsequent fame or infamy.

Since then though, the floodgates have been opened and other solo sax techniques from Evan Parker’s circular breathing to John Butcher’s voiced multiphonics have been expressed, analysed, emulated and/or attacked. Rosenberg’s achievement is different however. While the accomplishments of Braxton and other solo sax pioneers were notable for what wasn’t there — i.e. other musicians — the conception is now so ingrained in improvised music at least, that it can be taken the next step forward.

Younger than that Braxton LP — he’ll turn 30 in 2002 — solo playing, like minimalism, electro-acoustics and rock music has something that has always existed for Rosenberg. Thus the 21 tracks here clocking in from 51 seconds to barely more than three minutes, illustrate how you play a solo instrument, not how you make up for the absence of others.

It would be pointless to try to individually itemize all the different techniques the reedman uses on his three instruments. Overblowing, cross-blowing, circular breathing, key pops, reed trills, lip vibrations, double and triple tonguing, pitch vibrato, smears, chirps and growls are just the beginning. There are times when he sounds like a maddened rhinoceros and others when he explodes with more aviary trills than can be found in a rain forest. He can produce plumbing noises, lengthy tunnel echoes, Klaxon cries, dialogue with his voice box and the saxophone body and almost pure white noise. Often you can’t tell which instrument is being used.

He’s refreshing human as well. You can detect him marshalling his breath for another reed assault several times, and he breaks off one track in a fit of coughing.

OWE is a completely different proposition, and not just because there are three other musicians present. Recorded a year after V, it illustrates Rosenberg’s most obvious rapprochement with the ongoing free jazz tradition. Taking a turn from pure improv and composition-based sounds, he wrote a special quartet book for the players featured here, all of whom contributed to the tunes’ final shape.

An even newer, younger assemblage of Chicago improvisers, each musician here brings something different to the recording. Active in the improvising scene, cornettist Todd Margasak (b-1968) studied with bopper Johnny Coles and Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)’ mainman Ameen Muhammad. Bassist Kyle Hernandez (b-1972) studied with Richard Davis and was a member of he Chicago Civic Orchestra. Drummer Tim Daisy (b-1976) is part of the loose group of musicians around multi-reedman Ken Vandermark.

Taken as a whole, the CD resembles two sessions from the early 1960s, Ornette Coleman’s ORNETTE ON TENOR and John Coltrane’s THE AVANT GARDE, where Trane recorded Coleman tunes with Coleman sidemen. Some of the themes even sound like previously unknown Coleman heads.

With his quicksilver expositions and hesitant muted tone on cornet, Margasak work could be construed as a tribute to pocket trumpeter Don Cherry of Coleman’s group. Not that there’s outright imitation, it’s just the nature of the formation, especially when he wraps his higher pitches around Rosenberg’s saxophone forays.

That’s another point. Although the saxophonist is listed as playing tenor, there are times when the swooping sonorities he produces sound as if they’re coming from a baritone.

Taken together, the eight compositions bring to mind the AACM and Sun Ra as well. “Stolk”, for instance is a melancholy Ra-tinged ballad built on sensitive drumming, subdued bass playing and a slightly off pitch Rosenberg solo that transmutes from plushy tonal movements to multiphonic altissimo variations. “Jlv”, on the other hand is a hip Braxtonian march, where the saxophonist transforms a Coltranesque solo into some honking R&B. “Stataging” with its walking bass and cymbal sizzles from Daisy is a happy finger snapper that could have resulted if Gerry Mulligan had recorded with Ornette’s backup band. On this tune, particularly, with the patterns he’s creating, Rosenberg sounds as if he’s wielding the larger horn.

Hernandez has a showcase on “Spd Dbs” speedily alternating subterranean arco swoops and treble plucks. Daisy controls the piece’s seesaw rhythm, wiggling his cymbals, snares and leavening the pace with cow bell accents and rim shots. Vibrating his reed for wider, squeakier multiphonics, Roseneberg creates a quasi-jig near the end of the more than 12½-minute composition.

Call and response round robins from the horns combine the last two tunes into the sort of buoyant lines ICP leader Misha Mengelberg often writes for larger aggregations. Daisy has another short drum solo that doesn’t wear out its welcome, while the dual unison from the saxophonist and cornettist splinters into frenzied, reed biting altissimo on one side and Dizzy Gillespie-like stratospheric forays on the other.

Taken together, the two discs can double your pleasure or double your fun. Offering a new take on a solo session, V can be listened to for interest as well as instruction. Bringing his own interpretation of early free jazz to the fore with the other CD, Roseneberg extends a variation on the Coleman quartet legacy into the 21st Century.

One point about the titles of Rosenberg’s compositions, though. Whatever their merits, they aren’t user friendly. Musicians may be tired of squares coming up to them in a club and asking for versions of “Giant Steps” or “Freddie Freeloader”. But it’s very likely that no one will ever ask for a finger-snapping version of “hhbbhthbbbshhbh” or even “bdr”.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: V: 1. wrrrrtkkk 2. ccchorrrhhsssz 3. thrrrurntttt (grgrggrgr) 4. ntk 5. frrhnzzzpphh 6. schlvwwv flflff 7. pwyyyyrnnnyy 8. gnrbbssst 9. xxhllllrlr 10. vstprrppr 11. qkndrqrdn (for Glenn Spearman) 12. bbbrtttttynk 13. tsspbpbtskskts 14. knzznk ghlk lyllg 15. hhhhhbbhhth 16. bbrbbrtttybbyynk 17. hhbbhthbbbshhbh 18. slssss (knrcch) pb 19. yyyyyvspsp (for Chuck Ellis) 20. chhhhhrwww 21. djzrk pnyrrsp.

Personnel: V: Scott Rosenberg (contrabass clarinet, flute, sopranino saxophone)

Track Listing: Owe: 1. Jlv 2. Pro Marco 3. Stolk 4. 01/01/01 5. Spd Dbs 6. Stataging 7. Theen 8. bdr

Personnel: Owe: Todd Margasak (cornet); Scott Rosenberg (tenor saxophone); Kyle Hernandez (bass); Tim Daisy (drums)