Termite one
Bruce’s Fingers BF 32

Climb into a time machine and travel back 1989 in Yorkshire, England when the weather was autumnal cool, but enough heat was being generated from an ad hoc collection of improvisers to incinerate a block of council flats.

Souvenir of Leeds’ first Termite Festival, this CD should demolish the idea that all British improv is hushed and effete as completely as termites devour wood. As a matter of fact, there are times while listening to the almost 49-minute disc, that it sounds as if the two saxophonists, one trombonist, bassist and drummer are hungrily chomping through the music the way soft bodied white ants wreck havoc on a house’s structure.

Initially recorded on a Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine, the strength of the four pieces on this CD reissue is conspicuous enough to overcome any technical weaknesses, which would probably only perturb committed audiophiles. Additionally, the odd, numerical titles indicate how the running order of the original cassette-only release has been reordered on CD to return the tunes to chronological order.

Another reason TERMITE ONE is notable, is that it features two intersecting generations of British improvisers. Soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill and trombonist Paul Rutherford, were among the first generation of free players, associated with such mold-breakers as bassist Barry Guy, guitarist Derek Bailey and pianist/bandleader Chris McGregor. Much younger, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Paul Hession would soon go on to play together for a few years in a potent improvising trio. Fell is now involved with panoply of different groups and large ensembles as well as concentrating on composition; Hession has also been featured in solo drum recitals. Closer in age to the trombonist and soprano saxist, but a late starter, baritone saxophonist George Haslam played many times with Rutherford, as well as other first-generation musos such as saxophonist Evan Parker, as well as with Cuban, Argentinean and Eastern European jazzers.

Maneuvering their way through four lengthy instant compositions — the shortest is a shade under 10 minutes — go-for-broke improvisations from the five also evoke the intensity of 1960s’ Energy music. In fact, there are times when Haslam’s gamy baritone- saxophone expositions resemble the impassioned tenor saxophone work of Archie Shepp during that era. That is, except at one odd point, when the baritonist seems to be puffing out a version of the Woody Woodpecker song in the background.

With Haslam holding down the bottom end, there’s enough space left on top for Coxhill’s soprano vibrato to wiggle its way through some vaguely Middle-Eastern sounding permutations. Rutherford gets somewhat of a showcase for some fleet slide work, plus double and triple tonguing at the beginning of “Termite One Three”, sharing the spotlight with some cross sticking and press rolls from Hession. Elsewhere, the organized cacophony accumulates, then divides and subdivides as the horns use a variety of vibratos, overblowing and trilling effects. At one point Coxhill’s whine blends with Rutherford’s smears and spritzes, elsewhere it faces off against Haslam’s baritone rumble as motifs and counter motifs abound.

Fell, when he can be heard, confines himself to constant pizzicato plunking and some bow bashing on the strings, while the drummer uses the full extent of his powers to move things along.

In short, if you want to hear a one-off formation of northern instrumentalists at the height of their powers, performing spur-of-the-moment improvisations, then this CD will be for you.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Termite One One 2. Termite One Three 3.Termite One Four 4. Termite One Two

Personnel: Paul Rutherford (trombone); Lol Coxhill (soprano saxophone); George Haslam (baritone saxophone); Simon H. Fell (bass); Paul Hession (drums)