Title Goes Here
Rent Control Records rcrcd 009

Solitude In Borderline
Ninth World Music NWM 026CD

Who would have figured in the New Wave heyday of Martha and the Muffins in the late 1970s that the band’s saxophonist would end up as a Free Jazzer?

But here it is a new century, and after 20 years in Manhattan, playing with the likes of keyboardist Anthony Coleman and drummer Dee Pop, former Torontonian Andy Haas is now ensconced in another working band — but one which specializes in free music. Yet although his confreres in the Tertiary Trio, guitarist Don Fiorino and drummer Paul Corio are versed in different sound besides pure improv, it’s doubtful that they know the chord changes to the Muffins’ big hit “Echo Beach” or even the melody.

Around the time the Muffins had their brush with international stardom with “Echo Beach” a hit in England, over in Denmark the drummer and a saxophonist who had been members of John Tchicai’s recently disbanded Festival Band put together a new trio. Adding guitarist/bassist Søren Tarding, and naming the band after their tiny rehearsal space, reedist Thorsten Høeg and percussionist P.O. Jørgens organized Cockpit Music. Today, 25 years down the road, although also involved in other projects, the band still exists and has just released this, its eighth CD.

Both trios are part of jazz’s catholic accessibility to all sort of players and styles from many countries. Trouble is, it seems that Cockpit Music sometimes weakens its output by using the sort of simple riffs, repetitive rhythms and recording studio mumbo-jumbo that Haas probably put behind him when he exited the pop music scene. More primitively recorded, and at times victim to self-indulgence, at least TITLE GOES HERE sounds exactly as it’s meant to be: an unvarnished improv session, captured warts and all in real time.

Frankly, there aren’t that many variations among the seven instant compositions played over 58 minutes that make up the CD; Cockpit packs 14 tunes onto its 59-minute CD. “Not For Nothing”, the longest tune on TITLE GOES HERE, begins with a drumstick scratch on the top of a ride cymbal, intermittent string pressure distorted through a guitar amp and Haas mumbling through his mouthpiece. Soon tongue slaps and ghost-in-the attic cries and moans turn to wiggling flutter tonguing and buzzing overtones. Corio, whose playing partners have included reedist Daniel Carter and bassist William Parker, resonates his cymbal and concentrates on rim shots, as Fiorino flat picks and encourages Haas reed hisses to turn to shrill shrieks.

Animal cries, mouthpiece yodeling, reed French kisses, trumpet effects and droning microtones characterize the saxman’s work on the title tune. This is met with bass drum emphasis, clapboard stick work on the snare, bumps and flams from Corio, plus irregular reverberating effects and pedal amplified trills from the guitarist.

Throughout the disc, Haas seems intent on filling every space with slurs, trills, chirrups, smears and irregular vibratos, as if he was an unbalanced individual carrying on a never-ending conversation with himself. While these textures often advance the tunes, the pure density of the constant reed interjections brings to mind Groucho Marx’s remark when he met a man with 12 children: “I smoke a cigar, but I take it out my mouth sometimes.” In the same fashion, Haas’s meandering sputters squeaks and swirls would better stand out if there weren’t so many of them.

Extended circular breathing that leads to dog-whistle territory and ends with a squeal animate the fifth tune. But the techniques almost mask slurred fingering, and knob-twisting echoes and simple flat-picking from Fiorino. Just what is “Andy’s Complaint” anyway?

It’s obviously not with the guitarist, with whom he also plays in a duo, and who can strum banjo-like parts or Neapolitan mandolin approximations with equal facility> he can also create irregularly shaped, tinny sounding chords behind the bridge and on the neck. Nor is it with the drummer, whose experience with Carter has given him a playing repertoire that ranges from Sunny Murray-like door knocking pulses to sensitive rolls and ratascmues.

Maybe Haas’s “complaint”, as with many self-critical musicians, is with his own improvising. He needn’t be concerned. Although overall this disc could use more spit, polish and self-editing, it shows that youngish players are still fighting the good fight for abstract improv.

Fiorino has played in world music contexts elsewhere, but it’s the Cockpit Music members who add flourishes and instruments from different ethnic musics to their disc. Thus the West Indian steel drum, African kalimba, and the kantele, a Finnish horizontal harp, make their appearance here. On its own this folk-improv can be very impressive. But since the Cockpit crew is much more sophisticated in the studio than the Tertiary three, electronica hints, overdubbing and multi-tracking plus fusion-based beats too often overload the output.

Staring with the best track, “Tåge” includes sepulchral cymbal tones that create a continuum on which to balance a straightforward horn line and resonating electric guitar tones. “Den Gennemsigtige Knap” sounds as if it was scored in a Danish ice cave, with spectral horn sounds disengaged percussion pressure and unidentifiable mechanized string textures melding with werewolf yowls. Soon spiraling sax lines curve upwards freeing themselves from guitar string plinks and electronic drones. Coda seems to be a car brake screech.

“From The Ancient Worlds”, however, sounds as if Høeg is improvising with two or three saxophones in his mouth for added textures, before he involves himself in honks and electronic echoes. With Jørgens’ evidentially holding down the beat with a kit that seems to include a set of tuned drums, electrified marimbas then fan out metallic sounds. Next Tarding uses his volume and distortion pedals to overshadow the saxman’s Aylarian shrieks. Soon, spurred on by Aegean’s distinctive finger picking, everything is reconstituted into a Third World beat, as if a Turkish dervish was whirling in an electronics shop.

Other breakthroughs include Jørgens showing off what sound like a percussion routine on animal bones, spelled by ricocheting cymbals on the floor. The reedist seems to be able to make his axe(s) sound like an accordion, a harmonica or bites off multiphoinics to make his point. And the guitarist finesses his effects pedal to such an extent that it often sounds as if he’s playing electric keyboards complete with sliding portamento. For comparison the percussionist’s textures range from those that could be ascribed to a glockenspiel to amplified vibes.

Unfortunately, other experiments include “Kvæde”, which lists towards overdone fusion. Failing guitar lines and a fruity, wide vibrato sax solo — possibly double-tracked — head up the scale in pitch until they intersect with other reed tones. Meanwhile the drumming is unsubtle enough to come from Billy Cobham or Lenny White’s mammoth kits. With electric guitar buzzed bass lines, mallets echoing the pitter-patter of an electronic marimba and smooth sax honks, “Calm River” sounds like it’s heading into Smooth Jazz or New Age territory.

“Balladi”, a tenor sax-driven ballad, finds Høeg playing with an echo so distant that he could have attached a Varitone to his axe or be soloing in a wind tunnel. The acoustic guitar break could have migrated from a James Taylor session and the shaken and banged toms and snares flatten the entire performance.

Cockpit Music has impressed many people during its quarter century of existence. But experimentation and innovation should be as upfront as regular beats and unusual instruments to properly showcase its well-honed talents.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Title: 1. Unentitled 2. Brushes with Death 3. Needed Erasure 4. Not For Nothing 5. Andy’s Complaint 6. Title Goes Here 7. Frame That Tune

Personnel: Title: Andy Haas (alto saxophone); Don Fiorino (guitar); Paul Corio (drums)

Track Listing: Solitude: 1. From The Ancient Worlds 2. Dusty Heights 3. Calm River 4. Brikmand 5. Sten 6. Balladi 7. Swung-Ga-No 8. Tåge 9. Bottle Blower 10. Den Gennemsigtige Knap 11. Kvæde 12. Øen 13. 3000 Sommerfugle14. Watching The Borderline

Personnel: Solitude: Thorsten Høeg (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones); Søren Tarding (acoustic and electric guitars and bass); P.O. Jørgens (drums, marimba, steel drums, gongs, glockenspiel, metal, stone, wood and percussion)