Marriage of Heaven and Earth
Innova 567

Fugues and Flowers
Squealer Music SQLR 035

Gerry Mulligan may get credit for inventing the so-called pianoless quartet in modern jazz but it was Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz band of the early 1960s that really established it as a viable aggregation.

Having ingenious soloists like cornettist Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell on board, Coleman on his Atlantic LPs proved that lacking a chordal instrument did nothing to weaken a band’s internal dynamics, as long as the mixture of talent and compositions was maintained.

Forty years on, this sound is as familiar as that of a classical string quartet or a rock Power Trio, with literally thousands of groups having embraced it. Two of the impressive younger bands in the style are the represented on these live CDs. Just as instructively, both come from places other than New York’s jazz epicentre.

Boston-based, the grandiloquently named Fully Celebrated Orchestra (FCO) recalls the old jape about the Holy Roman Empire, which, we were told was neither holy, Roman nor an empire. As a quartet — initially a trio from 1987 until cornettist Taylor Ho Bynum joined in 1999 — FCO is certainly no orchestra. And considering avant jazz’s limited support, it likely isn’t fully celebrated as well.

Instead, the group, whose repertoire is written by leader/alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, is a rough-and-ready gang fully in the Coleman mould. Bassist Timo Shanko who also regularly works with local guitar star Joe Morris, has been with the band from its beginnings, while drummer Django Carraza joined in 1991.

Thoughout the writing of Hobbs, who has also played with Morris, not to mention metal band, Death’s Head Quartet, is strongly influenced by Coleman’s compositions. However, here he manages to include enough so-called world melodies and scales plus funk rhythms to attract the rock crowd as well as hardcore jazzophiles. Recently he also received a new work grant from Chamber Music America/the Doris Duke Foundation to create an original piece for the band.

The leitmotif of the tunes is to develop a simple head as a launching pad for heartfelt blowing then restate the head. At times, Hobbs, whose solos are usually made up of repeated note patterns cleaves to the absolute lowest register of his horn, leading to speculation that some of the notes may comes from a tenor saxophone. Other times, as on “Jaya” he produces a high, lonesome, arcing sound as if he was an Appalachian hollerer, which is given added poignancy by minimal bass and drum accompaniment. Drummer Carranza gets to show his stuff elsewhere, however, most notably on the Balkan-flavored “Aware of Vacuity”, where his quirky offside conception manages to simultaneously suggest jazz and Middle Eastern time. Holding to unvarying patterns, Shanko stays in the background as least aggressive member of the group.

Rustic settings and the blues may be brought to mind by “Ol’ Sow Rooted ‘em Up”, which recalls Coleman lines like “Folk Tale” or “Blues Connotation”. But while Hobbs may use smears and trills to try to approximate Hank Crawford-style soul, Bynum, who has recorded impressive sessions with cellist Jeff Song, is a little too sophisticated to get into the alley. In essence his tone suggests Charlie Shavers’ polite approach to blues. He sounds more comfortable melding with the saxophonist on the unison coda, and on other tunes uses techniques like valve shakes to express emotions.

Still, as long as this band of unreconstructed urbanites doesn’t try to don metaphoric overalls, they sound impressive. The overall sound picture here is of a mature band, confident in its role and ready to bring its message to a larger public

This unprejudiced audience FOC attracts often comes from college radio and the uncommitted indie-rock crowd to which Gold Sparkle Band (GSB) also appeals. A tale of two cities, trumpeter Roger Ruzow continues to reside in Atlanta, the band’s initial home base, while reedman Charlie Waters, bassist Adam Roberts and percussionist Andrew Barker now make Brooklyn their home. While Waters and Barker have become part of bassist William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra among other Big Apple aggregations, the quartet still isn’t really a New York band as this CD shows. Lengthy “Motor City Fugue”, for instance, was recorded in Atlanta, while the rest of the tunes were recorded in Chicago.

Paradoxically, GSB seems both more traditional and more outside than FOC. Some of the heads the band plays — all but two written by Waters — resemble Jazz Messenger themes, while some of the solos — again mostly by the reedman — seem to take as much from the modern, European, so-called classical tradition as jazz.

It’s this tradition which is most apparent in his clarinet playing. On alto, Waters’ vernacular, like that of Hobbs comes mostly from Coleman, with some Eric Dolphy thrown in for good measure. Even more noteworthy, though, is the playing of trumpeter Ruzow, potentially the most interesting brass stylist to come from Georgia since trombonist J.C. Higginbotham in the 1930s. Trained as a bassist, Ruzow only began playing trumpet professionally with the formation of GSB in 1995.

Perhaps it’s this novelty which still enlivens his solos. Certainly his admixture of melodic, open horn forays, muted asides and a repertoire of squeezed out smeary tones, flutter tonguing and whistles creates a unique niche.

These qualities are put to particular use on “Second City Fugue (Subject)”, where his mid-register double-timing suggest Klezmer music — or perhaps trumpeter Ziggy Elman, who had traces of that style in his trumpet work with Benny Goodman. Unison sounds come from a combination with Waters’ alto, though the duck quacks heard seem to arise from the clarinet reed. Waters also seems to unveil snake-charmer’s flute on “Second City Fugue (Counter-Subject)”, which when mated with Roberts’ quick walking bass suggests Charles Mingus’ 1960 quartet with Dolphy and Ted Curson as much as Coleman’s “Focus On Sanity”.

All techniques are rolled togeher on the almost 25½ minute “Motor City Fugure”. At different times, the band members split into trios, duos (trumpet-drums and clarinet-bass) and even go solo, with Barker finally able to bang different parts of his kit and Roberts given a little more arco leeway and room for some string struming. At one point the saxist introduces reed-biting foghorn squalls from his alto, at another exhbits sweet, almost-traditional New Orleans-style clarinet, while the rest of the group lays out. Not to be outdone, Ruzow exhbits a panoply of effects himself that range from burnished muted lines to military brass band flourishes and rollicking spit tones.

Both FCB and GSB give you new faith in modern improvised music’s consistent rejuvination. Plus each of the eight musicians involved is young enough to get even better in writing and playing. There may be a time, in fact, that singly or together FCB or GSB may be synonymous with A-1.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Marriage: 1. Succubusology 2. The Kelpi 3. Ol’ Sow Rooted ‘em Up 4. Jaya 5. A Tree is Me 6. Aware of Vacuity 7. Reconciliation of Heaven and Earth

Personnel: Marriage: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone); Timo Shanko (bass); Django Carraza (drums)

Track Listing: Fuges: 1. Zodiac Attack 2. Second City Fugue (Subject) 3. Fugues (Answer) 4. Second City Fugue (Counter-Subject) 5. Holiday For Flowers 6. Motor City Fugue

Personnel: Fuges: Roger Ruzow (trumpet); Charlie Waters (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute); Adam Roberts (bass); Andrew Barker (percussion)