Winter & Winter W&W 910 082-2

Palmetto PM 2091

Fans who complain that improvised music is too cerebral and not concerned enough with rhythm should hear these sessions led by drummers usually confined to the avant-garde side of the spectrum.

Although both are literal dance parties — in the 1950s definition of the term — each is different as well. ASTEREOTYPICAL shows what happens when you give three American and one Icelandic musicians license to create a sound animated by the traditional music of Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans. Conversely, COUNTERCLOCKWISE, featuring five Americans of a slightly earlier vintage than the dewy-cheeked Pachora crew, plays improv informed by the sort of R&B licks leader Bobby Previte probably heard growing up in Niagara Falls, N.Y. in the 1960s.

While often compared to a fanciful Balkan wedding band, Pachora has more influences than that. Rock/pop arrives through the bass guitar and electric bass of Icelander Skúli Sverisson and the electric saz of guitarist Brad Shepik, who played with the Tiny Bell Trio and Babkas. The plectrumist also adds South Asian intimations through his use of the droning tambura. Reedist Chris Speed and drummer Jim Black, both of whom were in Tim Berne’s bands have strong jazz influences. Black, who creates even rockier textures in his own groups, breaks up the rhythms here by his use of cowbells, bell trees, selected and unselected cymbals and other percussion. He also adds unique pianica tones to some of the backgrounds, suggesting both the harmonica and the accordion.

Additionally, Speed, whose alto saxophone is featured in bands like Myra Melford’s, stick exclusively to clarinet here, likely for purported authenticity. What results however when his reed tone is mixed with the pianica and strings isn’t Balkan, but sounds that are more related to joyous freylech melodies, that are to Klezmer what czardas are in Hungarian music and the jig in the music from the British Isles.

There are times, however, when this not-quite-ethnic strategy falters. Usually those tunes features overly busy drumming from Black — some of which sounds as if his instrument of choice is the telephone book — and when Shepik’s nylon string guitar forays resemble those acoustic intermission fillers so loved by overly-loud heavy metallers.

Still, most of Pachora’s tunes feature Speed’s uninflected, clear-toned clarinet playing the melody, mostly in contralto, but occasionally in chalameau register, with the beat promulgated by Sverrisson’s bass arsenal. With the freylech undercurrent in accordion washes, and rock interjections arriving though Hendrixian fuzz-laden guitar leads and buzzing amps, the challenge is for the musicians to not sound like the hippest ethnic wedding band in the world.

With what appears to be almost literal balalaika and dumbeck backing — probably courtesy of the saz and baritone guitar — “Howl” avoids this, with Black’s rhythms relating more to Persian or Dervish music that anything further west. Then there’s “Rider”, when dual guitars and tabla sounds from Black’s knurly percussion implies that raga rockers have drifted into the souk. Speed dissolves his Eastern European trills into split reed tones, Shepik tries some fancy triple-lined flat picking and Black appears to be doing the near impossible, playing a dumbeck and regular drum kit simultaneously. The “Little Theater” celebrated on the tune of that name seems to include performers who need a belly dancing melody arising from reed contralto trilling and dancers who need andante polkas and mazurkas created by buzzing triplets from the guitar players.

Although Pachora may appear to be playing at an ethnic wedding, Bump seems to spends its time in an ghetto honky tonk where funk-soul aggregations induce folks onto the dance floor.

That means that erstwhile Lounge Lizard and Jazz Passenger trombonist Curtis Fowlkes come across like the a blend of the JBs’ Fred Wesley and The Crusaders’ Wayne Henderson; Marty Ehrlich who is usually a high-brow alto saxophonist channels The Crusaders’ Wilton Felder and the JBs’ Pee Wee Ellis; Zony Mash mainman keyboardist Wayne Horvitz becomes The Crusaders Joe Sample; veteran electric bassist Steve Swallow cops Bootsy Collins licks; and in his playing Previte himself recalls the early, unclichéd style of the JBs’ Clyde Stubblefield and The Crusaders’ Six Hooper.

Don’t think that Bump has suddenly morphed into a funk/fusion band though. Despite the funk trappings, Previte is still the same musician who has written notated music for films, orchestras and the Moscow Circus and worked with thorny downtown noisemakers like John Zorn, Elliot Sharp and Berne. So while something like “And the Wind Cries-Mademoiselle Katherine” may reference Jimi Hendrix’s “And the Wind Cries Mary”, its lockstep rhythm function and extended horn sounds recalls Miles Davis’ “Mademoiselle Mabry” as well.

Additionally, “Bobby's Next Mood”, the longest track, initially skates along on a reggae-like beat courtesy of Swallow’s four square rhythm and key clips from Horvitz. However by the time Fowlkes has revealed his inner Rico Rodriguez and Ehrlich is sounding out long-lined altissimo trills, the piano output has turned impressionistic with turnaround meeting the bassman’s linear attack. Other tunes feature charts that lead the horns up in incremental pitches, the trombonist constructing a complete countermelody to what the others are playing, and the pianist erecting some high intensity fantasias, slipsliding from sharps to flats and back again while ranging all over the keyboard.

As for the short “soul interludes” here, they seem to be area code salutes to the down-and-dirty sounds produced in Detroit, Columbus, Ohio, New York, the East Bay area, Chicago and several unidentifiable spots. Most of the time Ehrlich and Fowlkes play unison passages with more sophistication than the Tower of Power horns, including rare forays into plunger mute territory for the ‘bone man and writhing split tones from the saxist.

Unfortunately, the final number — which adds Zony Mash guitarist Timothy Young to the band — is an oddly unfinished pastiche of atmospheric sliding guitar chords, ascending horn charts, and left handed nightclub piano sounds. After two full minutes of silence at its end, the tune reappears filled with recurrent R&B changes, tinkling, right-handed fills and pitch-and-catch riffs from the horns. At this point it literally lives up to the CD title since the concluding notes in that track seem to fit — counterclockwise — right into the first notes of track one.

More for your feet than your head, ASTEREOTYPICAL and COUNTERCLOCKWISE show that accomplished improvisers can get down if they wish. Let’s just hope they continue to intelligently experiment as well as showcase dance rhythms.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Astereotypical: 1. Romanics 2. Bushka Lounge 3. Klink 4. Snap 5. Push 6. Howl 7. Drifting 8. Little Theater 9. Nyla 10. Rider 11. Silencio 12. Mexahata

Personnel: Astereotypical: Chris Speed (clarinet); Brad Shepik (tambura, electric saz, nylon string guitar); Skúli Sverisson (acoustic bass guitar, electric bass, baritone guitar); Jim Black (drums, percussion, pianica)

Track Listing: Counterclockwise: 1. 877-Soul 2. Counterclockwise 3. 614-Soul 4. Bobby's Next Mood 5. 111-Soul 6. Patricia 7. 312-Soul 8. And the Wind Cries Mademoiselle Katherine 9. 498-Soul*

Personnel: Counterclockwise: Curtis Fowlkes (trombone); Marty Ehrlich (tenor (saxophone); Wayne Horvitz (piano); Timothy Young (guitar)*; Steve Swallow (electric bass); Bobby Previte (drums)