MARK HELIAS’ OPEN LOOSE

Verbs Of Will
Radio Legs RL 011

DAY AND TAXI
Private
Percaso 20

Differences that exist between these two saxophone-bass-and-drums sessions hinge less on the fact that one trio is Swiss and one American, than the comparisons extant from a working group and a newly constituted one.

Bassist Mark Helias’ Open Loose trio has been around for awhile, with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey filling it out for the past couple of years. VERB OF WILLS is a record of how the three sounded after playing together for weeks on an extended West Coast tour.

Guiding force behind Day & Taxi — which despite the name always has three members — is Swiss saxophonist Christoph Gallio, who composed the 13 pieces here. Over the past 15 years the soprano and alto saxophonist has worked with various rhythm teams and PRIVATE is the first CD featuring new partners, bassist Daniel Studer and drummer Marco Käppeli.

Tight as a drum which Rainey wields with extraordinary sensitivity, Open Loose (the band) is another modern mainstream group, or one that should be heard that way if the neo-cons weren’t so busy turning the clock back musically — and politically too, come to think of it.

Helias, who has shown his mettle in situations ranging from a bass duo with Mark Dresser to membership in Oliver Lake’s big band, is the rhythmic force here whose presence is more felt than heard. The bassist, who also wrote most of the tunes, invested them with enough tempo changes and alterations to keep things interesting. Saxophonist Malaby, who also leads his own band, varies his tone from smooth, near-alto-like to chesty, traditional tenor, with his playing straightahead as often as it’s experimental.

“Give Up The Ghost”, for instance, is a foot-tapper with a loping beat, that finds the saxman quickly moving from standard phrasing to pauses, slurs, double timing and triple tongue ornamentation. Helias’ expansive bass line holds onto the beat, as Malaby uses his light-toned upper register to initially state and later reprise the theme. “Let’s Roll One”, on the other hand, is freer, with bell vibrations and note shards characterizing the tenorist’s split tones that meet up with quick drum thwacks from Rainey, who has also worked extensively with saxophonist Tim Berne.

More enigmatic, “How ‘Bout It”, the longest composition at nearly eight minutes, has a melody that appears to be midway between that of a TV Cop show theme and Delta blues. Beginning andante, Helias speeds up the tempo for first a walking bass solo, then some plucks with his bow and thumps on his axe’s side and front. Using only the lightest pressure on his cymbals, plus circular wallops on his toms and snare, Rainey is the perfect partner for this output, while also accompanying Malaby’s extended trills.

Then there’s “AKA”, where the reedman floats a surprisingly unruffled and smooth line on top of bowed bass cello-like glissandos. Helias’ piledriver timbres soon transform the tune into a Sonny Rollins-like calypso, including eccentric echoes of “God Save The Queen”. Up in alto range, Malaby also works multiphonics into his solo, but the constantly reprised theme isn’t lost.

Elsewhere Rainey — understated as always — approximates the sound of conga drums and wood blocks on “Mistral Angel” where Helias produces buzzing, woody, complementary lines. Meantime Malaby’s usual throaty tone turns quicker and more slurred, shifting into a higher pitch to meet the bull fiddle’s double-stopping pulse.

Leaving North America for Europe, Gallio is someone who says he’s more comfortable in the art scene than the music scene and has close affinity for Continental literature. Here, he has as many dedications for his minimalist tone poems as Ken Vandermark has for his tunes.

Although he has worked with Americans like bassist William Parker and drummer, Rashied Ali, plus Brits like bassist Lindsay Cooper, most of the reedist’s dedications and his orientation is decidedly non-Anglo-American. In terms of comfort level, his wispy Paul Desmond-like alto playing is pretty nondescript, he’s much more individualistic on his tart, Steve Lacy-influenced soprano sax.

Paradoxically, the tunes, ranging from a mere 38 seconds to nearly eight minutes long, are both more experimental than Open Loose’s yet more constrained. But perhaps that’s the Swiss way.

For example, “Quiet Days”, which despite its title is one of the more probing numbers here, finds Gallio expansively furrowing a line more lower-pitched than anything Lacy would imagine, and seeding it with tongue slaps and reed peeps. Studer, who also is part of band that reconstructs standards, slashes at his bass strings, with his bow, while Käppeli, who has also played with countrymen like reedist Hans Koch and cellist Martin Schütz, resorts to rim shots and the clink of his sticks against the side of his drums.

In great contrast, “Laetitia Pop-Corn”, a serpentine, Monk-like melody, was commissioned by a Sicilian label owner for a CD sampler and is dedicated to Swiss porn queen Laetita. Likely using a harder-than-usual reed, Gallio has an onanistic a cappella solos where he trills his ideas until the bowed bass pumps out a suggestion of “It Don’t Mean A Thing...” Studer, who spent nearly 15 years in Rome playing in anarchistic trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini’s quintet ,would likely appreciate this un-Swiss-like humor, as would Käppeli, who has written music for films and theatre and worked as an actor.

A memorial to a drummer-friend who killed himself, “Lament for Matthias” is suitably sombre, built on disconnected drumbeats, wavering soprano line and squeals from the bowed bass. Then there’s “A Postcard for Andreas” and “Save”, two relaxed tone poems alive with the sort of undulating syncopation Helias sometimes creates as well. The second finds Gallio altering his elongated held tone with a bit of spetrofluctuation, smearing out notes in false registers so that its tone begins to resemble that of a taragato. Käppeli’s rhythms on the offbeat add to this Eastern European cast.

The first piece finds the rhythm section initially and metaphorically operating like the caricature of a Swiss pharmaceutical concern under laboratory conditions, with the bassist examining his strings one at a time and the drummer carefully positioning his snare work. It takes the bouncy theme, reprised a few times, to break the serious mood.

Finally “Ann’s Wedding Song” is a joyous ballad using prominent, Latin American-like timbales and a clave pattern, while the bassist tries out a montuno beat. Absorbing Cuban inflections, the reedist plays higher than usual, expresses his emotion with double tonguing and false fingering.

Two trio trysts: each different, each unique and both enjoyable.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Verbs: 1. Detonation 2. Relic 3. How ‘Bout It 4. King Judas 5. AKA 6. Anagram 7. Mistral Angel 8. Give Up The Ghost 9. Let’s Roll One 10. The White Line 11. Hegemony 12. Ekman

Personnel: Verbs: Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Mark Helias (bass); Tom Rainey (drums)

Track Listing: Private: 1. Chie 2. Peter Zorro H 3. A Postcard for Andreas 4. Walter & Claudia 5. Save 6. 101 7. Laetitia Pop-Corn 8. Ann’s Wedding Song 9. Quiet Days 10. Emilio’s Party Song 11. Yohji 12. Lament for Matthias 13. Tea for D

Personnel: Private: Christoph Gallio (soprano and alto saxophones); Daniel Studer (bass); Marco Käppeli (drums)