Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1147

Unjustly unknown, drummer Paul Murphy is a veteran free jazzer whose experience goes back to membership in various groups led by Jimmy Lyons in the 1970s and 1980s. His highest profile — if anything in Free Jazz has a high profile —came in the late 1990s, when he held the drum chair in Trio Hurricane, a band completed by tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman and bassist William Parker.

Washington, D.C.-based Murphy still plays with whomever he can on either coast, and this memorable session shows that his mixture of force and finesse is easily put to good use. Most noteworthy is his style, which can be summed up as presence without pulverization. You can sense Murphy’s skills on each of the five instant compositions here. But he doesn’t feel it necessary to take an official solo until the final track. Even then, he only plays absolutely alone for no more than one minute each at the beginning and at the end. He knows that drum solos are like perfume, the least obvious is the most potent.

In addition, the drummer’s co-workers operate at the same high level. They’re comparable veteran improvisers, whose fame doesn’t begin to approach their talents. Virginia-based pianist Joel Futterman is often found playing in bands with New Orleans tenor saxist Kidd Jordan and Mississippi drummer Alvin Fielder. Cellist Kash Killion performed with such improv notables as bandleaders/theorists Butch Morris and Sun Ra and tenor saxist Pharoah Sanders. Decade long collaborations with the drummer and each other characterize the sound of the two.

At this point abstract jazz has a tradition too; you can see its shape in the hands of these adept musicians. At almost 31 minutes, twice as long as any other track, “SFERICS” is plainly the disc’s centrepiece.

At the core of that improvisation is Murphy, keeping up a constant barrage of shaded percussion sounds. As he move things along, Futterman explorers dissonant keyboard chording, usually at a high pitch so that the notes can easily dart among Killion’s nimble cello strokes. Roaming and octave jumping, the pianist references Cecil Taylor, but his up-and-down motion is actually more conservative than Taylor’s academic anarchistic approach. There’s even a section where he seems to be sounding out an arch-romantic interlude as the cellist picks out jazz-like lines and Murphy displays the tidal wave force of his kit.

Killion can switch between arco and pizzicato in a heartbeat. At one point he involves himself in some Wily E. Coyote stealth, sneaking up on the theme as if it was the Roadrunner, as the piano follows behind, leaving a bird seed trail of harmonically-oriented accented grace notes. Later, as Futterman begins verbally communicating with his axe — the cellist mumbled encouragement to his instrument earlier on — the piano man appears to be working himself up to a mouth foaming frenzy. Before that happens though, the cellist returns with some quick plinks and string whaling, implying that vibrating sticks have been placed between the strings for extra bounce.

Futterman retreats to the highest register of his piano, as Murphy’s bop-shaded cymbal work gives way to an assembly line of perfectly placed beats. As the intensity builds it seems as if this is going to be one of the few jazz-inflected improvisations that’s all tension, no relief. Ultimately, though, as each trio member throws great handfuls of single notes into the hailstorm the composition has become, it winds down, ending on a single plucked cello note.

Apart from Murphy’s solo “ZYGOUN” is an abbreviated follow up to “SFERICS”, quieter with the drummer manipulating his cymbals so delicately that they could be vibes. But with his trap work only serves to bring the piano trouncing and cello’s basso swoops into finer focus.

Earlier, Killion shows that he can not only slide with barbed wire force with his bow, but generate mewling, high-pitched single string lines that almost sound as if they come from a flute. Throughout, if necessary, he provides triple or quadruple stops or a constant pedal point. Meanwhile Murphy spatters his time-keeping in irregular beats, often more felt than heard and Futterman’s dynamic touch involves slipping, sliding and spilling all over keys.

Once the CD ends, you’ll probably be asking yourself how it is you’ve never heard of Murphy, Killion and Futterman before, and what more you can do to rectify the situation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. D1T1 2. Desert Fire 3. Intersections 4. SFERICS 5. ZYGOUN

Personnel: Joel Futterman (piano); Kash Killion (cello); Paul Murphy (drums)