Soft Nose
Bvhaast CD 1501

Foghorn Records FOGCD03

Back when the CD first came on the market, one of its heralded advantages was longer running time. No longer would creativity have to be limited to 45-odd minutes of music, abruptly bisected when one LP side ended.

Putting aside the anomaly that many pop bands still struggle to fill CDs with 10 three-minute tracks, even improvised musicians sometimes find that inspiration runs out before the time limit. What that means is that less-than-satisfying CDs of up to 75 minutes are being released that could have been classic sessions if 10 to 20 minutes had been shaved off the playing time.

Cornettist Eric Boeren’s SOFT NOSE is a case in point. No failure, but no masterwork either, it’s a respectable-enough inside/outside date by two horns and two rhythm playing a combination of originals by Boeren and Ornette Coleman. In this case, over 65 minutes of this minimal instrumentation and these tonal colors is a pretty long haul. Maybe it would have worked better if all the Coleman lines had been eliminated.

No bandwagon climber, Boeren, a longtime member of the Available Jelly band, has been involved in interpreting the American alto saxophonist’s compositions for more than a decade. But considering that his tunes resemble those of Coleman’s, there are times here when it seems that the same melody is being played over and over again in three to four minute bursts.

Calling on the combined talents of multi-woodwind player and Available Jelly leader Michael Moore, astute bassist Wilbert de Joode, who often works with clarinetist Ab Baars, and Holland’s clown prince of percussion, Han Bennink, Boeren has the talent and instrumentation of Coleman’s classic quartet down pat. With the drummer’s and reedist’s experience in the anarchistic ICP Orchestra and his own background in rural fanfare bands, the four are able to internalize the march tempos and quasi vaudeville that highlighted many of the Texas-born saxophonist’s tunes.

It’s no problem for a brass band graduate to play rhythmic triplets or a bugle-like vamp; to call on his extensive jazz history to slap on a Harmon mute for more lyrical passages; or to brassily gleep and beep like a frenzied Energy player when he wants. Creating trilling yakkity-sax lines, R&B honking or squeaking away on a quasi-Dixieland sounding clarinet doesn’t phase Moore either, who has played many strange gigs since he left his native California to live in Holland almost 25 years ago. Furthermore, as these compositions often encompass free forms, near show music, Cool Jazz lightness, proto-freebop as well as march tempo, the drummer can show off his versatility — but thankfully not his shtick. Foot-lifting martial beats, irregular free jazz pulses and Gene Krupa-like swing revival press rolls appear if needed. As for De Joode, he’s a straightahead, pizzicato tower of strength at all times, as Charlie Haden was in the Coleman group. Yet he’s also able to scrape out arco runs and create bass percussion like David Izenson, another Coleman confrere did in his time with the American saxist.

Still this compendium of effects becoming wearying in the short salvos of condensed compositions. More to the point, during the two extended numbers — of more than 18 and more than 12 minutes respectively — the effect is further weakened by shackling Boeren and Coleman compositions together, as well as adding — in the former — Eubie Blake’s “Memories of You”. Although Moore can channel Artie Shaw on clarinet and Boeren use a cup mute for some sweet Swing, the transitions are awkward, as if the compositional vehicle was going from a dirt road onto a superhighway and back again.

Rather than this pastiche, British-based saxophonist Tony Bevan comes up with, fewer tunes and one which are more varied in tempo and color on ‘NHAM. The five instant compositions give enough breathing space on a CD of a little more than 55½-minute duration for mutual discovery and ingenuity to be on tap as well. Unlike the Boeren Four, which have been playing as a unit for four years, this was a first meeting between two Brits — bassist John Edwards is the other — and two advanced Chicagoans — trombonist Jeb Bishop and percussionist Michael Zerang.

Recorded in London just before the quartet’s mini-tour of England was completed, the strength of the CD shows in each musician feeling out the quirks and reflexes of the others and piling on various challenges to see what develops.

No Jazz At The Philharmonic contest of strangers, each musician has had some contact with at least another one of the four before this date. Tenor and bass saxophonist Bevan, who leads a British trio with Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders, had played and recorded with Bishop and Zerang in Chicago a years earlier. Zerang, who has played with musicians as varied as Chicago veteran tenor man Fred Anderson and Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson, has worked in a trio with Bishop and bassist Kent Kessler, while both he and the trombonist are part of German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet. Bishop’s experience also included membership in saxophonist Ken Vandermark’s quintet, while Edwards has worked with other impressive saxists like Evan Parker and Elton Dean.

Although there are some march tempos on display here, this is much more a free improv session than Boeren’s disc, with the only signpost for comparison, the 1960s New York Art Quartet with saxist John Tchicai and trombonist Roswell Rudd. Bishop whose tongue flutters and growls frequently suggest that older ‘bone man is in good company, few contemporary innovative brass stylists can escape Rudd’s influence.

At the same time this is no tribute record. The conception is transmogrification not emulation. On the nearly 11-minute “Relics” and elsewhere, for instance, Zerang is as apt to sound a doorbell peal from his cow bell for emphasis, than play elsewhere on his kit, while buzzing bass lines and colored noises being pushed through the horns have the same legitimacy as more conventional soloing would. Here Edwards bows up a storm before Bishop’s elongated slide pitches give way to waves of bitonality as the trombonist sounds several notes at once. Bevan’s monster sax makes its appearance as well, almost chomping through the foliage as it takes centrestage. Using circular breathing, honks and trills, the reedist produces note flurries that are usually likened to bird in smaller horns, but resemble donkey brays from his instrument of choice. Finally adagio, Bevan ends the tune with an elongated honk that takes up most of the available soundfield.

No tribute to crooner Crosby, “Bing” is instead a slow-moving showcase for the lockstep meshing of Bishop’s plunger tones and what sounds like Bevan on ascending and descending tenor saxophone runs. With a strong pizzicato undertow and accents and suggestions from every part of the drummer’s rig, Edwards and Zerang are in constant motion, as much a part of propelling the composition as the front line.

Almost 23 minutes long, the title track, which celebrates a gig in — and an old joke about — Cheltenham that apparently creates mirth in the United Kingdom, serves as the session’s centre. True to their respective cultures, Bishop, plunger mute in place, darts in and out of the themes like a possum, while Bevan on chirping tenor, burrows inside them like a hedgehog. Matching cries and trills, the two suggest the mammals at the height of nocturnal playfulness. Meanwhile Zerang produces constant drum rolls and Edwards slaps his bass strings.

Soon the trombonist is tonguing deep into his mouthpiece or clipping off staccato slide runs as Edwards bounces his bow onto his strings for more of a percussive sound and Zerang turns to brushes and cymbal movements. Splitting apart and joining together as they improvise, Bevan and Bishop, to extend the animal metaphors, sometimes work like a tandem carriage team or speed off like racing fillies. Unobtrusively Zerang quietly changes tempos several times, speeding it up at one point with drum work that sounds like the clip clop of horses’ hooves. Languidly decreasing in speed and volume, space appears for Edwards’ arco bass thrusts and the drummer’s speedy percussion stresses and cymbal scratches. Finally all this gives way to rolling split tones and smears from the trombonist, tongue slaps, false fingering and reverberating reed whistles from the saxophonist and ends with drum stick upon drum stick punishment.

Two quartet sessions and two examples of a mixing European and American musicians are showcased on two discs. But the lesson seems to be that appropriately timed free improv wins out over truncated or protracted compositions — at least in these circumstances.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Soft: 1. Soft nose 2. Ciz 3. Mr & Mrs People 4. Moon Inhabitants/Memo/Memories of You/Soft nose 5. For Rosa 6. As we see fit 7. Bosch/Alpha 8. Chips 9. Charmes 10. Swizzle 11. Eos 12. I heard it over the radio

Personnel: Soft: Eric Boeren (cornet); Michael Moore (alto saxophone, clarinet, alto clarinet, contralto clarinet); Wilbert de Joode (bass); Han Bennink (drums)

Track Listing: 1. “Nham: 1. Running with scissors 2. Relics 3.Scraps 4.’nham 5. Bing

Personnel: ‘Nham: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Tony Bevan (tenor and bass saxophone); John Edwards (bass); Michael Zerang (drums, percussion)