Calling All Spirits
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1123

Lucille’s Gemini Dream
CIMP #237

Seattle-born, Boston-trained, a resident of Paris in the early 1990s and since then a Manhattanite, saxophonist Avram Fefer is one of the new breed of peripatetic musicians.

Proficient on all the saxophones and clarinets as well as flute, he’s a straightforward, straightahead player, most comfortable in what should be deemed the post-bop mainstream, if the neo-cons hadn’t forced much of jazz forward to the past at the end of last century. Both of his discs, recorded 13 months apart, offer a cross section of soloing from all concerned that’s never less than accomplished. But with each reprising three of his compositions, it could be that Fefer’s future achievements could rest in composition rather than improvisation.

Each of the tunes — “African Interlude”, “Going Nowhere Fast” and “Loss [for Flo]”— and some of his other originals here are rollicking, rhythm riffs that lope along at accelerated paces and sound instantly familiar after you’ve heard them once. In the halcyon days of working groups, it’s a good chance that one or all of them would have joined lines by Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson and the like in every freebopper’s repertoire. Even today, they should seriously be considered as add-ons by other musicians. Until that happens, we have to rely on Fefer’s own interpretations.

Most interesting is “Loss”, which is worked on by a trio of Fefer, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Igal Foni on SPIRITS and inflated to nearly twice that length when trombonist Steve Swell and bassist Wilber Morris join the saxophonist and drummer on LUCILLE’S.

Although responsibility for its shape and elaboration rest mostly on the saxophonist’s shoulders — or more accurately his powerful, Sonny Rollins-inflected tenor work — on the Cadence disc, it’s the bass playing of Revis, who has worked with tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, that emphasizes its foottapping qualities. Here and elsewhere Foni impresses as well, mixing steady timekeeping with virtuosity on what sounds at times like an anachronistic riveted sizzle cymbal

Cast in a free context, without losing its inherent funkiness the “Loss” of starts with offside altissimo variations from Fefer and low pitches from Swell until they mesh. Foni relies more on rim shots here than on the other disc, but throughout the entire CD, poor Morris certainly lacks the presence of Revis. Due to CIMP’s no-mixing-no-compression-live-to-two tracks policy, he and most other bassists recorded by the label are usually inaudible, unless you enjoy cranking up the volume for their solos then whipping it south again for louder instruments.

Despite its title, “Going” works up quite a head of steam on the trio session, with the saxophonist in full, speedy Pharoach Sanders mould and the drummer hitting everything within reach. Taken at a slower pace by the quartet, Fefer offers up the same reed-biting dynamics, while Foni plays a variation on Sunny Murray to the saxman’s Albert Ayler. Echoing extended, well-modulated passages within his bell, Swell provides the deviations to Fefer’s reading of the theme. Here and elsewhere the unison voicings recall the work done by trombonist Roswell Rudd, an avowed Swell influence, as part of the band of saxophonist Archie Shepp, with whom Fefer played in Paris.

A highly rhythmic piece, which appears to centre around pedal point, as do other Fefer lines, “African” was recorded by a popular six-piece acid jazz he was a member of, while the saxist was in Paris. Both American versions have certainly lost the “acid jazz” context — whatever that means — with the CIMP recording possessing a slight edge. Foni gets to exercise his miscellaneous percussion at the top, as a Dixieland feel sneaks in, advanced by Fefer’s fluid clarinet work buffeted on all sides by Swell’s reverberating trombone slurs.

From beginning to end of the CIMP disc, this mixture of trombone and saxophones brings to mind a sound midway between some of bassist Charles Mingus’ smaller combos and Chicago’s Ethnic Herritage Ensemble as well as the Shepp-Rudd partnership. Ironically “Orange Was The Color Of her Dress Than Blue Silk”, the only real Mingus tune, is performed with the trio.

That cover, plus versions of pieces by Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry distinguish the trio session. So does Fefer’s noteworthy interlocking sounds on overdubbed bass clarinet and tenor saxophone on “Calling All Spirits, Calling All Poets”, where he improvises so cleanly you wonder which track actually came first. Mechanical manipulation of that sort is anathema to CIMP, so the originals — all by Fefer, except for one by Swell — are heard pristinely, with the sound at the mercy of the instrument’s position and dynamics.

There’s lot of like in both these sessions, with the Cadence, with its direct tributes, more of an apprenticeship disc, and CIMP, stuffed with originals, more of an artist’s statement. But be fully aware that later label’s quirky and opinionated engineering reduces some of its impact.

Maybe for best effect, Fefer should record another session in a non-CIMP studio with Swell. There’s probably a notebook full of memorable compositions the reedman could also bring along.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Calling: 1. Orange Was The Color Of her Dress Than Blue Silk 2. African Interlude 3. Mothers of the Veil 4. Guinea 5. Going Nowhere Fast 6. Loss [for Flo] 7. Calling All Spirits, Calling All Poets

Personnel: Calling: Avram Fefer (tenor, soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet); Eric Revis (bass); Igal Foni (drums)

Track Listing: Lucille: 1. Loss [for Flo] 2. Ripple 3.Cycle of Fits 4. Lucille’s Gemini Dream 5. Going Nowhere Fast 6. Heavenly Places 7. African Interlude

Personnel: Lucille: Steve Swell (trombone); Avram Fefer (tenor, soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet); Wilber Morris (bass); Igal Foni (drums)