ANDY LASTER’S LESSNESS

Window Silver Bright
New World Records 80589-2

Almost 50 years ago, in 1953, New York vibist Teddy Charles got together with some advanced musicians in Los Angeles to produce COLLABORATION: WEST, an LP which molded chamber jazz, classical touches and swinging blues into a unique confection of shifting tonal centres.

Baritone saxophonist Andy Laster may never have heard that album. But the recipe he’s applied to this disc makes it a perfect successor to it and one that’s just as impressive. Like Charles, who used drummer Shelly Manne, bassist Curtis Counce, trumpeter Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre on baritone saxophone, his line up is eerily similar. Like the Californians, who worked in each other’s bands, Laster’s sidemen also often play together in other aggregations.

The baritone saxophonist, who at one point was part of singer Lyle Lovett’s Large Band is in the Julius Hemphill Sextet, writes contemporary chamber music and is part of cellist Erik Friedlander’s Topaz band. Friedlander, who has also played in John Zorn’s Bar Kokhba project, is in pianist Myra Melford’s quartet with trumpeter Cuong Vu and drummer Michael Sarin. Sarin has worked with trumpeter Dave Douglas, a former Laster associate, while Vu has also worked with Douglas and Zorn. Odd man out here is vibist/marimbaist Bryan Carrott. But he more than makes up for it with experience ranging from the outside bands of composers like Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill to mainstreamers like saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman and drummer Ralph Peterson.

Interestingly, as well, although all the compositions on this nearly 60 minute CD are by Laster, like the solo order on the Charles disc, it’s the mallet man and the trumpeter who get most of the space. Carrott, especially, is convincing, preferring the marimba with its natural sound to the electrified vibraphone for most of his work.

Something like “In Teum”, for instance, finds him using four mallets to intersect with Vu’s quasi-baroque trumpet and the bowed cello. Then he starts triple timing like a modern day Terry Gibbs in response to Friedlander powerfully wielding his axe like an electric bass, slinky brass blasts and Sarin’s polyrhythms from both sticks on drum heads and brushes on cymbals.

Throughout, the cello is voiced with either the vibes or the horns in such a way that the result takes on characteristics of a chamber orchestra string section. On tunes like the pretty, swinging, but hard-centred “The Rooascend”, the lines seem to go off every which way before uniting in short passages of vibrating sound. Laster solos with the delicacy of a tenor saxophonist here, while the muted, buzzing of Vu’s trumpet adds the toughness needed.

“Norseman”, the longest track, with its modulating pub-drinking rhythm, uses the 12-tone technique, but so un-academically that it scarcely registers as something out of the ordinary. Relying on a sort of double counterpoint, Vu plays some open horn, while the cellist shows off his classical chops. Later the trumpeter prods gravelly tones from his highest register while the baritone expels low breaths. Passing the theme around, the instruments go in and out of unison with the sort of split-second timing you need driving bumper cars in an amusement park.

Romantic references to Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” are lightly voiced on “Trit and Ina” and then elongated by Sarin’s wood blocks and Vu’s spit valve trumpeting plus a cello part that could be mistaken for one from a bagpipe. But to avoid pretension, the piece’s real movement seems to owe more to some of those humorous ambling ICP compositions of Misha Mengelberg than heavy Wagnerian seriousness. Analytically, “Rip-rush” too may officially have a hocketing beat. But the five treat it like rock’n’roll, with Sarin hitting heavily, Carrott wiggling the wood of his marimba and Vu growling and bugling.

After COLLABORATION: WEST many of he participants rejected experimental chamber sounds for out-and-out swinging. But that’s one advantage 21st century musicians have, exemplified by this CD, which could be termed COLLABORATION: EAST. They can be experimental and swing at the same time.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Jellyfish 2. In Teum 3. The Rooascend 4. Mito 5. Rip-Rush 6. Black Pond 7. Norseman 8. Halcyon Days 9. Trit and Ina

Personnel: Cuong Vu (trumpet); Andy Laster (baritone saxophone); Bryan Carrott (vibraphone and marimba); Erik Friedlander (cello); Michael Sarin (drums, temple blocks)