Thunder Reminded Me
Clean Feed CF009 CD

Apostolic Polyphony
Drimala DR 03-347-01

Atlanta has never been known as a hotbed of creative music. Country blues may have been played there years ago — by Blind Willie McTell and Peg Leg Howell — and written down — by W.C. Handy at about the same time, while popsters like Destiny Child thrive there today. But deep-dish improv has never really been welcomed by the town.

It’s no wonder then that its best-known jazzers like pianist Duke Pearson and alto saxophonist Marion Brown made their reputation elsewhere. Right now, this archetype seems to be playing itself out again with the members of the Gold Sparkle Band (GSB).

An Atlanta mainstay since 1994, two of GSB’s members — alto saxophonist/clarinetist Charles Waters and drummer Andrew Barker — have already made the trek to Brooklyn, N.Y. Having established contacts with like-minded players ranging from John Zorn to William Parker, neither is likely to return. Trumpeter Roger Ruzow — arguably the group’s most singular player — remains in the south, but CDs like these show how GSB variations are adapting to the big city.

Recorded within six weeks of one another during 2001, at the centre of the Apple’s downtown scene, at Tonic and the Vision Festival, the discs pinpoint the players’ evolution. THUNDER REMINDS ME, attributed to the Gold Sparkle Trio with Adam Roberts on bass — as he has been on recent GSB gigs with Ruzow — is firmly in the primitivistic early Ornette Coleman groove that is pretty standard GSB. But APOSTOLIC POLYPHONY, which links Waters and Barker with pianist Matthew Shipp, is in a more expansionist mode.

Related by Waters to the concepts of composer Olivier Messiaen, the continuous improvisation seems to touch on the interface between notation and improvisation and jazz and classical music, a POMO concern more endemic to New York’s five boroughs than Atlanta’s Five Points. It also ends with a fashionably noisy, beat-laden, electronic and static-oriented, echoy remix of one of the trio’s tracks by New York deejay Shannon Fields

Recording balance is the major drawback of the trio record: somehow Baker is too far up in the mix on every tune. That isn’t too bad when it’s his inventive stick work on show, but when he rolls with proper power, he nearly obliterates the other musicians’ work. Not surprisingly, Roberts is the main victim, though when he gets his head — or hands — as on the title tune and plays unaccompanied, his rhythmic conception is very slow-moving anyhow. On the positive side, as influenced by Coleman’s bands as the three GSBers may be — one short drum solo honors Billy Higgins — other influences show up as well.

“Cardshark”, for instance, is a riff tune firmly in the honky-tonk blues tradition, with Baker supplying some rickety-tick stick motions. And “Coronation Blues for the Memory Theatre West Coast” — the tune with the most convoluted title — adds straightahead drags from Baker to pseudo-Trane licks from Waters, plus a trilling alto theme that resembles “London Bridge Is Falling Down”.

On saxophone, Waters has a tendency to practically bite through his reed and lead tunes first into dog-whistle then siren territory. He’s more restrained and warmer on clarinet, breathing out cushioning accordion-like tones when he plays.

Still, expansive multiphonics characterize Waters’ work on the title track, which is based around an Ornette-style nursery rhyme head, arched and double tongued by the altoist. For a while it seems as if he’s channeling both Coleman and Eric Dolphy, retrogressing to the early 1960s in his solo, with only Roberts — in the Charlie Haden role — holding the beat steady. However the sax showcase finally resolves itself with some sweet Mariachi intimations, and the reminder that Coleman, while a Southerner like the GSB members is also from Texas.

Geographically, Waters and Baker hook up with Delaware’s Shipp on the other disc, which appear to be a single performance with CD tracks created at the beginning of different solos.

If THUNDER’s leitmotif is speed, then APOSTOLIC’s is pacing, although there are times when the pace gets a little draggy. Traditionalists could identify the instrumentation as that of the Benny Goodman Trio, and in fact, as on the other disc, Waters makes his most effective statements on clarinet.

“One-Three Invention” finds him playing with extended, vibrato-laden trills that slide from airy Jimmy Giuffre-like explorations to near-Dixieland chirps. Shipp occupies himself with tremolo-involved fantasias and it almost appears as if Barker is hand drumming. Obviously, this shows that despite the Goodman Trio comparison, Baker is no Gene Krupa. When he rouses himself from constrained brushwork to attention getting rolls, roughs and paradiddles though, the closest parallel is to Coleman Quartet percussionists like Higgins and Ed Blackwell, not the gum-chewing Swing Era drummer boy.

Neither would Shipp ever be confused with Teddy Wilson. On the first and penultimate tracks where he has freest range, the polite, self-editing of the Goodman collaborator doesn’t come into play. On “Part-One Invention”, with Waters, trilling away in the coloratura range and Baker whacking his heads with passion, Shipp moves from bebop dynamics to Dave Burrell-like Free Jazz clusters. Lyrical octaves flow from both hands until he begins pounding out arpeggios, shadowing the reedist’s whinnying Klezmer-Balkan inflections, with notes darting from either side of the keyboard.

Then on “Three-Two Invention”, mostly a drum-piano duet, Shipp appears to create a modified Tango rhythm, before involving himself in extended, circular, high-intensity rubato passages. Imagine Messiaen meeting “Honky Tonk Train”. As the pianisms begin to circle into themselves, Baker counters with rolling tap-dance like movements.

Because of these careful keyboard considerations, the few vibrating growls Waters brings to the proceedings don’t prod the more than 61-minute piece into excitement. But this disc does possess the organization the other should have had.

On their own and as a group, GSB members are evolving up north. So both these discs are worth investigating as indications as their progress. Combining the rawness of one with the cohesion of the other could result in a really memorable session in the future.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Thunder: 1. Naysayer 2. Thunder Reminds Me 3. For Billy Higgins 4. Coronation Blues for the Memory Theatre West Coast 5. Williamsburg Concerto #1.2 6. Cardshark

Personnel: Thunder: Charles Waters (alto saxophone, clarinet); Adam Roberts (bass); Andrew Barker (drums)

Track Listing: Apostolic: 1. Part-One Invention 2. Two-Part Invention 3. Three-One Invention 4. Part-Two Invention 5. Three-Part Invention 6. Three-Two Invention 7. One-Three Invention 8. Part-Four Invention*

Personnel: Apostolic: Charles Waters (alto saxophone, clarinet); Matthew Shipp (piano); Andrew Barker (drums); Shannon Field (remix)*