Shadow & Light
Drimala DR 02-347-01

Isn’t there some cliché that states that “out of great tragedy comes art”, or something like that? Well that’s only partially true. Art shackled to the reflection of a cataclysmic event is as likely to appear as a polemic or agit-prop. Having the right opinions or feeling strongly about a situation doesn’t automatically elevate your creation to a masterpiece. Any number of folk ditties or punk rock snarls can be cited as evidence.

Sometimes — though not always — purely instrumental music will offer enough distance from the event to raise the believability stakes. Certainly the four veteran improvisers represented on SHADOWS & LIGHT show this. Strictly by chance, the recording session for this CD was scheduled for September 11, 2001 in upstate New York. After jazz economics convinced them not to cancel — bassist Mike Bisio, on tour with other band members, lives in Seattle — the group went along and recorded some of the most moving, yet joyful music to reflect the events of that day. Yet because these men are thinking improvisers rather than propagandists, the emotions have to be intuited from the impassioned playing, not descriptive titles or shouted slogans.

Like a suite, the almost 55-minute CD starts off with muted, near inaudible exhalation from Joe Giardullo’s bass clarinet gradually turning to rodent-like cries and echoing multiphonics, until snare rattles from drummer Tani Tabbal signal the rest of the band’s entry and the second tune begins.

“Cries, Whispers and Cries” builds up from this near silence to cacophonous lines from each instrument playing at the same time. Giardullo introduces vaguely Oriental-sounding trills on soprano saxophone, Joe McPhee counters with tough tenor asides, Tabbal weighs in with subtle percussion suggestions, as the piece is built around and extended with an extended pizzicato vamp from Bisio.

The bassist, who has recorded duet sessions with both McPhee and Giardullo in the past, gets the spotlight to himself for “In the End There Is Peace”. A continuous arco showcase which begins with him approximating what could be extended reed techniques, advances to a centre section of variegated pitches that sound as many strings as possible, and ends with a mournful bass line that suggests repose.

Subtle too, is the solo work of Tabbal on “Question of Time”. This brief — a little more than 4½ minute — percussion workout demonstrates that each part of the kit can be highlighted without appreciably increasing the volume of attack. His playing almost seems to be taking place in slow motion, with each gesture relaxed enough to appear to be recorded underwater, so deliberate and specific does it seem. A Detroit native, who has played in the bands of saxophonists James Carter and Roscoe Mitchell, Tabbal didn’t realize how far from peaceful his personal 2001 would be. A couple of months after this session, he underwent 12 hours of surgery to remove a benign, grapefruit-sized cranial tumor. He is now said to be recovering well with his playing skills undiminished.

McPhee too is the master of oblique references as on “City on the Edge of Forever”, a duet with Bisio at his melancholy best. Here, his choked pocket trumpet tone hangs for a time in the air before detonating into screeching debris. Sadness becomes almost palpable as the bassist’s produces low, legato tones. If he’s ethereal on brass, then elsewhere McPhee can also be hard-bodied and raucous on tenor saxophone, which he plays with a pronounced vibrato. This split-horn personality doesn’t pose a problem for the others, especially Giardullo and Bisio who with bassist Dominic Duval perform regularly with McPhee as Bluette.

Giardullo too is able to represent distinctive differences on each of his chosen instruments. For the day at hand, probably the most appropriate sound appears on “Well of Souls”, where to the accompaniment of Tabbal’s West African percussion, the curving tone of his shenai allude to the ritualistic incantation you may hear on a field recording of Arabic trance music. Despite the blame being apportioned to Muslims during that hysterical day, that timbre should remind everyone that universal music could overcome political and sociological differences.

In the end, while it’s apparent that SHADOWS & LIGHT, which can only be found at, isn’t program music per se, surely it provides an earnest sound picture of 9-11. Listen to it as an exceptional musical experience, not as anything else.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. One Moment and the Next 2. Cries, Whispers & Cries 3. City on the Edge of Forever 4. Twilight at Noon 5. In the End There Is Peace 6. Well of Souls 7. Question of Time 8. Shadow and Light

Personnel: Joe Giardullo (C flute, bass clarinet, shenai, soprano saxophone); Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, tenor saxophone); Mike Bisio (bass); Tani Tabbal (drums, percussion, udu drum, djembe)