STEVE SWELL

Presents Particle Data Group
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1139

Voicing disparate instruments together in a small group can be a challenge for even the most accomplished arranger. When the context is free improvisation the creation can be even dicier without expected parts to follow.

That this CD of instant compositions hangs together so well is a testament to the cooperative intuition of the three musicians involved. Selfless in terms of deep listening and quick reflexes, each player manages to subsume whatever agenda he follows for the greater good without resorting to New Age noodling.

De facto leader, trombonist Steve Swell, offers the cooperative experience he has gained playing for leaders as different as vibist Lionel Hampton, altoist Tim Berne and bassist William Parker, although the last two probably provided better background for this excursion. Best-known for his spiky jazz-rock excursions with the guitar and drum-playing Cline brothers, vibist Greg Bendian, who also works as a percussionist, has immersed himself in free jazz with bands led by Parker and pianist Cecil Taylor. Iconoclastic guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil has spent the past few years finding a niche for his instrument in freer contexts both in his own bands and with elders like master drummer Milford Graves.

Throughout, the sounds from the Particle Data Group (PDG) range from raucous to restrained, with the former particularly noteworthy. That’s because earlier bands that excelled in drummer-less ensembles, like Red Norvo’s vibes-guitar-bass trio or Jimmy Giuffre’s reeds-trombone-guitar combo, limited themselves to jazz chamber music.

PDG takes things even further out as well. On the this-side-of-New-music “Temporal Resolutions”, Bendian cuts his instrument’s motor to approximate the found sound of banging on real untempered metal before producing a summer rain shower of tiny vibe notes. Apparently unplugged as well, Eisenbeil flaunts his axe as a percussion implement, while Swell’s contribution extends from full-bodied trombone howls to muted internal bell explorations to melismatic smears.

On other tracks, the three express themselves in situations ranging from 59 seconds to almost nine minutes, as they take turns passing the percussive and front line roles from one to another. “Constancy of Motion”, for instance, the longest and most traditional (sic) free jazz outing, features Bendian letting loose with some swift, undulating and shimmering vibe runs, while Swell spews out tart, smeared ’bone discursions. “For Roswell”, obviously dedicated to pioneer free player Roswell Rudd, is more a tribute than an emulation. Still Swell, a trombonist, who has worked in combos beside Rudd, does mirror the single-lined boisterous quasi-Dixieland blasts that distinguish the solos of the other man from his more studied approach.

“Anahad” finds the trombonist reveling in Classic Jazz brass smears and struts, Bendian transfiguring his vibes to something midway between a metal drum and a metal piano, and Eisenbeil performing both bass and guitar functions.

The main criticism of the session, that the guitar’s contributions are often masked by the more upfront soloing of Swell and Bendian, are answered on the appropriately titled “No Bones About It”. A duet for the vibist and guitarist, the former tries to limit himself to a supporting role, producing a vibrato-laden ostinato, while the guitarist charges up and down the frets.

In short, discovering a striking example of how to transform one string, one horn and one percussion instrument into a combo that creates orchestrally rather than in miniatures is no more difficult than finding this CD.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Anahad 2. For David Bohm 3. Constancy of Motion 4. Dissolution of a Curve 5. Interdependence 6. Congenital Phraseology 7. Diagnostic Placements 8. The Wisdom of Starting Where You Are 9. No Bones About It 10. Sarmad 11. Temporal Resolutions 12. For Roswell 13. Uphill Interactions

Personnel: Steve Swell (trombone); Bruce Eisenbeil (guitar); Gregg Bendian (vibes)