The Blue Rims
Louie Records 030

m.m.p. CD 008

Alternately ascribing a European and an American sensibility to these quartet sessions is a bit simplistic. But the fact remains that it’s more than serendipity that makes two CDs recorded live in the studio with nearly identical instrumentation about one month apart, both first rate, yet so different.

Perhaps it’s the combined experience of the musicians in each band, coupled with the fact that tenor saxophonist Rich Halley’s four blows flat out on six lengthy compositions, while baritone saxophonist Alberto Pinton’s quartet spread its music among 14 much-shorter selections.

It may also be cohesion. Halley, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs have played together in and around Portland, Ore. for many years, in a variety of settings. Cornetist Bobby Bradford, the ringer here, is also one of the most adaptable of serious musicians. How else can you explain the dexterity of someone whose brass tones sounded equally at home as part of saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s spiky, iconoclastic bands and in the formal, yet blues-rooted quartet of the late clarinetist John Carter?

On THE BLUE RIMS, the brassman easily integrates himself into the Halley-Reed-Storrs trio as if his presence was a regular occurrence. Pinton’s Clear Now is also a regularly constituted band, or at least as regular as one can be where one member, Venice-born Pinton, lives in Stockholm, and the others, bassist Salvatore Maiore, drummer Roberto Dani and Indianapolis-born brassman Kyle Gregory live in Italy.

Recorded in less than four hours, the Oregon session is one of those that distinguish jazz from other kinds of music. With the ADAT machines turned on the morning after an evening concert by the four, they just played — with a break for sandwiches and stories. The result is the sort of spontaneous and exciting CD that Nashville sweeteners and Los Angles multi-trackers try to duplicate during several months of studio time and usually fail to equal.

“Shards of Sky”, for instance, finds Storrs beating out a modified march tempo, with the tune itself reminiscent of early Ornette — and pre-Bradford — themes. With Reed providing the bottom, the cornetist slurs out a series of bent notes, the tenor man chromatically works his way up his horn to altissimo trills and the drummer adds enough

tambourine sounds to call out the Sally Ann. When Storrs begins worrying his cymbals, Bradford squeals his way upwards in such as way as to recall “Work Song” until both hornmen turn to a faster, Spanish style vamp. A false ending precedes a coda back in march time.

Another suggestion of how Bradford might have sounded with Coleman, “Rat Trap Blues” showcases a mixture of walking bass and bouncy drumbeats. Storrs contributes some bass drum accents and Halley introduces a breathy Ben Webster-like tone, complete with a tough vibrato, then doubles the tempo as cornet obbligatos appear. The subtle, professional he is, Storrs’ drum solo is a brief episode in snare and tom tom foolery without slowing the tune down. Returning to the head, the front line adds variations then exits in higher keys.

The four can be even more outside. “Old Fields” finds Storrs sounding as if he’s producing his percussion underpinning from hand drums while Halley, much freer than elsewhere, constructs a solo that seems to want to find the midpoint between “Bags Groove” and some of Arthur Doyle’s drooling sax ejaculations; he even gets into squealing multiphonics at one point. After Reed brings the tempo down with a canon-like bass line, Bradford appears to quote lyrical Italian opera-like arias, while the drummer brings out the triangle and other miscellaneous percussion.

Miscellaneous percussion also makes an appearance on “The Stalk” where, largo, Storrs almost appears to be sounding Tibetan bells until fleet-fingered Reed turns the piece andante. As Halley elaborates the theme, Bradford sounds as if he’s leading a fox chase. Finally, he ends his chromatic trills with a brassy flourish as his rolling liquid tones mate the saxman’s mid-range horn honks.

As on its first outing, COMMON INTENT, Clear Now still seems intent on providing more for the consumer’s dollar, playing 14 tunes in less than 49 minutes. This may be admirable, but as on the band’s first CD, it seems that the longer tunes that give the members more room to stretch are superior to the shorties.

For instance, as good as Pinton’s fleet fingered and flutter tonguing a cappella baritone digressions resonant on “Variation On a Ballad Theme”, when the tune runs into “One Of a Kind” (sic), the balladic imagery suggested by the grace notes flowing from the flugelhorn, unhurried plucked bass accompaniment and subtle cymbal pressure give it added strength.

Ditto for “Stoneface”, where Pinton’s pedal point bari outpourings, and near Philly Joe Jones bop lines from Dani allow Gregory to sail over the changes. Bringing out his bass clarinet, the reedist unites his tone with low-key muted brass for an Eastern European-style sound excursion as Maiore’s bass slinks cat-like through the composition.

Or take “Dark Déjà Vu”, where the drummer’s chinging triangle recalls a freebop version of the Jazz Messengers. Playing with the facility of a tenor saxophonist, Pinton manipulates his baritone to produce smooth multiphonic cadenzas. Gregory contributes sky high trills — is he using the piccolo trumpet here? — and the entire track suggests what would have happened if Lee Morgan and Pepper Adams had been transmutated to the 21st century.

On the other hand, Dani’s composition, “Canzone Per Max” and Pinton’s “Calm” reference European free music avant garde, something Halley & Co. avoid. The drummer, who has played with such outstanding theorists in that field as tubaist Michel Godard and clarinetist Louis Sclavis, has constructed a slow moving, contrapuntal line, which has only the barest hint of percussion and ends in almost complete silence. Similarly, the reedman’s piece is pastorally reminiscent of pre-20th century music, relying as it does on the arco scraping of the double bass.

Whether you like your improv Yank or Continental, there’s much to like on both of these discs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Blue: 1. The River’s Edge is Ice 2. Shards of Sky 3. The Blue Rims 4. Old Fields 5. The Stalk 6. Rat Trap Blues

Personnel: Blue: Bobby Bradford (cornet, percussion); Rich Halley (tenor saxophone, percussion, whistling); Clyde Reed (bass); Dave Storrs (drums; percussion, whistling)

Track Listing: Terraferma: 1. Paint By Heart 2. Marching Man 3. Untitled 4. Stoneface 5. Fast Forward 6. Variation On a Ballad Theme 7. One Of a Kind 8. Dark Déjà Vu 9. Calm 10. Fragment 11. Open 12. Paradox 13. Canzone Per Max 14. Paint By Heart II

Personnel: Terraferma: Kyle Gregory (trumpet, flugelhorn, Bb piccolo trumpet); Alberto Pinton (baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute); Salvatore Maiore (bass); Roberto Dani (drums)