GEORGE HASLAM/PAUL HESSION

Pendle Hawk Carapace
SLAM CD 315

Freely improvised duo sessions, involving a reed player and a percussionist always seem to invoke comparisons with John Coltrane’s famous duets with Rashied Ali. That won’t happen this time around.

It’s not so much that these seven tunes are worked over by two men who have been associated for nearly two decades — a much longer time than Trane knew Ali — or even that George Haslam adds the sour sound of the wooden tarogato to his baritone saxophone improvisations here. Rather it’s that Trane and Ali really aimed for abstract space in their late 1960s duets. Yet the two Britons — Yorkshire drummer Paul Hession joins Lancastrian Haslam here — have such eclectic experience that melody implications always exist somewhere beneath the free sounds.

For instance on “Jack Rafters” — all the titles relate to carpenters’ terms — Haslam’s tarogato suggest new melodies almost as soon as he starts playing the tune. As he continues, the woodwind player, whose associates have ranged from the conventional — trumpeters Arturo Sandoval and Valery Ponomarev — to the more experimental — trombonist Paul Rutherford and bassist Simon Fell — for a time seems to playing obbligatos to his own output. He’ll play one phrase brightly, then answer it with a dampened tone. Eventually he begins constructing circular notes, sometimes pushing the Hungarian woodwind’s pitch higher, into soprano sax territory.

Meanwhile Hession, who has been part of The Sigur Band and Anglo-Argentine Jazz Quartet with Haslam, as well as often collaborating with Fell, whacks his sticks together for a reciprocal wooden tone in between ratamacues and flams. Overall, there’s hardly a press roll that isn’t complemented by a cymbal stroke, though he does drag his drumstick over the ride cymbal for maximum subtle reverberations. At the very end, Haslam forgets himself and gets into some Trane-like honking, but very shortly he’s back to his unique tonalities influenced by experiences in Eastern Europe and South America.

Haslam’s main axe is the baritone and in his hands its output is pliable enough so that he doesn’t have to depend on ocean floor tones to make his points. On “Scantlings”, for instance, mid-range lyrical sounds mix with trills that sometimes tonally work their way up to Arabic ney mimicry. Suggesting a different part of the African continent, Hession exhibits some supple hand drumming. Elsewhere “Purlin”, showcases Haslam’s tough, masculine baritone roar, advanced with short, powerful snorts. Sylvan legato melodies are played in tenor range, while a cappella passages that modulate up and down the scale and seem to refer to czardas and freylachs, come from the bottom keys. Astute cymbal shading and tom tom rolls that emphasize the wooden properties of his kit are Hession’s rejoinder to all this.

A tarogato pioneer before it was adopted by other saxophonists like Peter Brötzmann, the reedist often relies on its grainy, not-quite-alto, and not-quite-tenor, timbre to leaven the baritone’s bellow. But at the same time, he’s so comfortable with both that he appears to switch back and forth between the mini and the giant horn almost without taking a breath. He can do circular breathing on either of them if he wishes as well. Often he produces reverberating overtones to amplify his initial note placement.

For the time being, though, sticking to one at a time is the prudent course. His first recorded attempt to use both horns — with the tarogato as the melody-maker and the baritone supplying the ostinato — on “Eaves End”, the shortest track — is more atonal sounding than he likely intended. Let’s just say Rahsaan Roland Kirk hasn’t been challenged yet.

Other than that, PENDLE HAWK CARAPACE, a pointed record of melodic dissonance, is probably best sampled in small doses. That way you can hear how two longtime associates handle and negate the arid air that sometimes overcome challenging duos.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Corbels 2. Purlin 3. Blockings at Apex 4. Scantlings 5. Noggings 6. Jack Rafters 7. Eaves end

Personnel: George Haslam (baritone saxophone and tarogato); Paul Hession (percussion)