THE NU BAND

Live at The Bop Shop/Rochester, NY
Clean Feed CF 002CD

Definite truth in packaging if not in spelling, the cooperative Nu Band is new enough to have produced this memorable CD on its third ever gig.

Existing in an economic atmosphere where every improvising musician must have several irons in the fire and operate as a member of several groups simultaneously, this awkwardly named combo is made up of four veteran players who have been concerned with making it new since the mid-1970s.

Trumpeter Roy Campbell may have the highest profile, as one of his other gigs is with Other Dimensions in Music, the co-op quartet that also features bassist William Parker and multi-reedist Daniel Carter. But the brassman has also played and recorded with the likes of pianists Mathew Shipp and violinist Billy Bang plus leading his own aggregations. Bassist Joe Fonda has often worked with composer/performers such as Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith in the past, and is now involved in a variety of projects, most notably his well-received quartet with pianist Michael Jefrey Stevens. Drummer Lou Grassi has accompanied folks as different as ragtime piano specialist Max Morath and Arkestra mainman alto saxophonist Marshall Allen as well as leading his own PO band. Undeservedly the least known element, alto saxophonist Mark Whitecage spent years as featured sideman in German vibist Gunter Hampel’s Galaxie Dream Band, but lately has been working to raise his own profile.

Operating in a space defined on one side by adventurous freebop and by unbridled energy music on the other, the four are familiar enough with the language to create flowing, inflected solo statements without ever undermining the overall rhythmic flow. So while Whitecage’s liquid alto forays may probe atonality on his own “Court Street”, the first — and at 20½ minutes, the longest track here — Grassi’s polyrhythms and Fonda’s solid time keeping prevents the structure from heading off into space. With themes and counter themes suggesting early Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, this and the other tunes still have a definite structure.

Plenty of solo space is built into that edifice, of course, with room for Campbell’s treetop jumping trumpet, Grassi’s sophisticated drum sallies and a place for Fonda to let loose as he hums and whistles along as he plays. Before the initial motif reassert itself following some front line note trading, there are a couple of sections that seem to relate more to Klezmer than the Cool.

Consisting of two shorter numbers written by Fonda and a longer one by Campbell, the rest of this live date is pretty consistent. True to its title “Fast” gives its composer, Fonda, who was suffering from the flu — though you wouldn’t know it from his excited performance here — enough scope to race up and down his strings. He’s so energized by his bull fiddle showcase in fact, that he shouts in Grassi’s display of percussive pyrotechnics, before the entire tune ends with a well-placed rim shot.

“Gone Too Soon”, another appropriate title, since at slight more than 6½ minutes, it’s the shortest piece here, is a slinky ballad. Delineated by muted trumpet smears, it appears to give Whitecage a chance to showcase his uncredited but resonating bass clarinet tones.

Introduced by growling, open-horn brass mountain climbing by its composer, Campbell’s solo on “One for Hannibal” references many more trumpeters than its dedicatee, Hannibal Marvin Peterson. Celebrating every valve master who played a plunger chorus from Cootie Williams to Lester Bowie, contributions from the rest of the band soon move it straight into energy music. With Campbell’s constricted glottal tones first soaring over Grassi’s clamorous kit barrage, then succeeded by Whitecage highlighting accented reed screeches, finally seconded by Fonda’s rock-solid work, it pulls a form of early jazz into the continuum. Proving that this is a group whose catholicity allows something like Ayler’s conceptions to share space with Williams’ mature style, the entire album speaks of musical acceptance, not rejection.

In the end that’s why LIVE AT THE BOP SHOP is such an exciting product. Unlike self-satisfied jazz neo cons that try to limit definitions of improvisation, these neo-radicals apply an array of sounds and techniques to create a richer more satisfying soundscape.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Court Street 2. Fast 3. Gone Too Soon 4. One for Hannibal

Personnel: Roy Campbell (trumpet): Mark Whitecage (alto saxophone, bass clarinet); Joe Fonda (bass); Lou Grassi (drums)