WHIT DICKEY/TRIO AHXOLOXHA

Prophet Moon
RITI CD 006

TONE DIALING
Elektrodoki
No Label No #

Putting together an improvising trio featuring saxophone and drums with guitar as the only chordal instrument creates a combination rife with potential hazards. Luckily Trio Anxoloxha includes Joe Morris, an inventive artisan, whose skills encompass knowledge of bass and banjo techniques, while Tone Dialing extends its musical menu with electronic attachments.

Ahxoloxha is a palindrome invented by its leader, drummer Whit Dickey to describe how the group works together, balanced on all sides. Dickey, whose experience encompasses the bands of pianist Matthew Shipp and tenor saxophonist David S. Ware; and alto saxophonist Rob Brown, who has also played extensively with Shipp and bassist William Parker, come to the drummer’s project from the core of New York’s so-called ecstatic jazz movement. Connecticut-based, Morris may not live near Ground Zero, but much of his playing history is with similar experimenters there and in Boston.

His separation may account for the CD’s only drawback. Morris is such an original player that his creativity outranks what comes from the other two. Each is a fine musician, but unlike the guitarist, their solos fit securely into the niche of what paradoxically could be described as traditional experimental sounds.

More prosaically named, the Amsterdam-based Tone Dialing trio also seems more evenly balanced. However like the division in Ahxoloxha, two of its members are from one place, the third from elsewhere. Reedman Jorrit Dijkstra has been an active Amsterdam improviser for almost 20 years. He has worked with locals bandleader Willem Breuker and pianist Guus Janssen, as well as American trumpeter Herb Robertson and Vancouver-based Talking Pictures. Also from the Netherlands, Paul Pallesen often combines banjo and guitar with electronics and works in folk-oriented groups as well as in improv outfits with Dijkstra, pianist Cor Fuhler and others. Australian percussionist Steve Heather arrived in Amsterdam from Melbourne in 1995. Since then he used his drums, triggered samples and a junkyard full of percussion in groups with Fuhler, soundsinger Jaap Blonk and violinist Jon Rose.

Dealing first with the five tracks recorded in the centre of the universe, you find Dickey, Brown and Morris pursuing different stratagems over the course of shorter or longer pieces. Oddly enough, although his tone appears to be an amalgam of late bebop and Ornette Coleman, Brown’s attack here is reminiscent of the work of a non-sax-playing jazzer. Swing trumpeter Roy “Little Jazz” Eldridge — who come to think of it did record with Eric Dolphy and once jammed with Coleman — always had a pugnacious side to him, often expressed in a melodramatic, screechy tone. Although a much more linear player, Brown’s vibrato seems to head skywards with the same regularity as “Little Jazz”’s, whether he’s playing a quasi-ballad like “Telling Moment” or exercising his reed on the nearly 19-minute title track.

Beginning a cappella, Brown trills and smears his notes with a real fury, moving ever upwards with shaking, renal squeals. Busy on snare and cymbals, Dickey is unobtrusive however. Throughout the CD he never asserts himself, although he wrote all the tunes. In contrast, Morris definitely sounds like Morris, first constructing carefully emphasized fills and relying on straightahead comping. His entire mid section output is constructed in stop time, lazily appearing to move at half-speed as Brown huffs, puffs and tries to blow the tune down around him.

Later on “Riptide” the fret man appears to be flat picking in such a way as to tie a circular knot around Brown’s histrionic tone. As Dickey bangs out a few bass drum pedal accents and the saxophonist’s playing gets denser, Morris improvises in parallel lines that seem to progress without crossing or melding with the others’ sounds. Although at one point he does produce chicken scratches at warp speed, most of time he’s content with single-note pinprick overtones, occasionally sliding into the space beneath the bridge. This one and other tracks fade out as the three are still playing, leading to the suspicion that conclusive endings were lacking.

On other CDs Morris has begun using acoustic bass, banjo and banjouke, and while none of these instruments are present here, such techniques as lower-paced rhythms or high-pitched flailing torque up his performances on PROPHET MOON.

Meanwhile, a continent away, Pallesen brings his banjo, plus guitar and effects to ELEKTRODOKI. It’s all the better to mate with the sounds emanating from Heather’s percussion and sampler collection and Dijkstra’s alto sax and lyricon, an analog electronic wind synthesizer.

Both bizarre — for improv at least — axes get a workout as early as track #1, with tremolo distortion and tongue slaps meeting stuttering electronic fuzz and the intermittent pluck of bass strings. Lyricon-created duck quacks vie with straight, theme-advancing lines, while effects allow Pallesen to alternately showcase harsh, lofty electric guitar notes and what appear to be high-frequency pressure fingering from an electric piano. Sounding at times like he’s rolling dice on his drum heads, Heather also triggers samples from his kit, which produce paper crinkling tones and percussion-like clatter. Lyric tones are smeared out by the sax man before the ending, with a 30-second coda that replaces intermittent machine-like buzzes with spacey floating tones.

While the sounds on other tracks suggest that a rock band — or maybe a highly electrified version of Aussie improvisers The Necks — have made it to outer space, most of the music is more earthbound. On track #5, for example, the flailing tones of a tenor banjo meet manipulated lyricon squeaks, as what sounds like the echoes of a chugging toy locomotive provides the percussion element. Elsewhere the drummer smashes his cymbals with blacksmith’s strength, while what could be tones from manhandled chopsticks, sea shells, garbage can lids and mushroom boxes are overlaid on corpulent, funky electronic pulses. As finger picking emphasizes the guitar line, the music builds up in intensity, appending lighter-than-air alto effects and off-kilter, drum patterns. Before it ends with an intermittent buzz, you hear chiming guitar lines and clinking synthesizer wiggles.

Another aural metaphor appears at the end of track #4 with what sounds like a motor running down. Before that sharp metallic sounds — from percussion samples? — chirping corkscrew twists — from a reed? — and pulsating static resolve themselves into a simple beat.

Although merely LP length — 34:09 — this disc is worth investigating. But one would hope Tone Dialing gets a larger scope to express its ideas in future. As for Ahxoloxha, its CD will no doubt attract Morris fans. Too bad his soloing couldn’t have inspired the other trio members to more inventive work.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Prophet: 1. The Word On The Street 2. Prophet Moon 3. Trial By Fire 4. Riptide 5. Telling Moment

Personnel: Prophet: Rob Brown (alto saxophone); Joe Morris (guitar); Whit Dickey (drums)

Track Listing: Elektrodoki: 1. #1 - 11:25 2. #2- 3:44 3. #3 - 1:19 4. #4 - 5:15 5. #5 - 8:05 - 6. #6- 3:58

Personnel: Elektrodoki: Jorrit Dijkstra (alto saxophone, lyricon, analog electronics) Paul Pallesen (guitar, banjo, effects); Steve Heather (drums, percussion, sampler)