Day & Taxi
(Percaso )

by Ken Waxman
April 12, 2004

Probably more by serendipity than design, Sweden’s long romance with jazz and improvised music is very obvious on this improv session by LSB. More casually however, Material by the Swiss trio, Day & Taxi, proclaims that country’s musicians’ interest in mixing so-called New music with improvisations.

LSB’s core resolves around the tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet of young veteran Fredrik Ljungkvist. His background includes partnership in a romping two-saxophone band with Italian reedist Alberto Pinton, membership in the proto-bop Atomic band with trumpeter Magnus Broo and playing time put in with American Ken Vandermark in the latter’s Territory Band.

Rhythmic backing here is provided by a mixture of the young and the older. Drummer Raymond Strid is the experienced one. Besides being part of Gush, Sweden’s best-known avant trio, with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and pianist Sten Sandell, he has also taken time to collaborate with the likes of British bassist Tony Wren and Vandermark. Young but versatile, bassist Johan Berthling has played with everyone from Vandermark and Sandell, to Australian ambient guitarist Oren Ambarchi.

In contrast Day & Taxi — a trio despite the name — is a vehicle for the soprano and alto saxophones and compositions of Christopher Gallio, whose allegiance is more with the art and literary scenes than the music business. This is the second CD to feature bassist Daniel Studer and drummer Marco Käppeli and shows how the new sidemen are providing a sharper cadence to Gallio’s compositions.

LSB’s talent lies in how the three mix intimations of hard bop and West Coast cool sounds with their outside style without sounding as if anything artificial is being grafted onto the performance.

On features for his largest horn like “Fredriks hörna” and “Broken Shadows”, Ljungkvist’s drive and output is reminiscent of another Swede, Lars Gullin, who made an international reputation as a baritonist in the 1950s. Especially noteworthy is the trio’s treatment of the later tune, an Ornette Coleman piece that begins slowly and finds the reedist evolving from a mellow, velvety tone to respiration of the theme in straightforward and more accentuated coloration. Added to this is Berthling’s relaxed, close-to-the-bridge ponticello bowing and an understated percussion shuffle from Strid. By the end, it’s remarkable how slowly the three can play while being rhythmically potent. On the former tune, Ljungkvist shows he’s no neo-con retread by introducing a collection of altissimo smears and buzzing growls as the bassman double stops.

Ljungkvist’s full-bodied clarinet work, which ranges from traditional glissandos and chirps to outside flutter tonguing and shrill squeaks, can also be related to the contributions of countryman Stan Hasselgard. For a few brief years in the late 1940s. Hasselgard innovated an accommodation between Swing and Bop. Ljungkvist does something similar here with straightahead and avant garde impulses. “Utah”, for instance, features a spacious, western-style melody that bounces on a walking bass line and subtle brush work, while “Riska” is more varied. Following a first-class plucked bass intro, Ljungkvist’s full bodied reed obbligatos vie for space with chirping flutter tonguing as Strid’s rolls and flams take on a pre-modern hue. He’s playing hip Gene Krupa to the reedist’s 21st century Benny Goodman. Coda is a prolonged, upper register reed shriek.

Sonny Rollins, a non-Swede, is referenced by Ljungkvist’s tenor sax playing which boasts a mixture of spiky, side-slipping harshness and intense, irregular vibrations. But Rollins never recorded breathing out a resonating hollow reed tone that almost builds to accordion timbres. Individuality also asserts itself on the Ljungkvist’s own “LSB-vals”, which despite having been written with a suggestion of Coleman’s stop-and-start “Lonely Woman” theme, manages because of his integrated tenor tone, to be piercing but not abrasive.

With 13 compositions compared to LSB’s nine, Gallio tries to explore a greater number of moods on Material, especially on the five tunes in the one-minute zone. Interestingly enough, Coleman references show up here as well, especially on “Urs and Us”, a freebop tribute to the late Swiss pianist Urs Voerkel, who played at different times with all three men on the CD. However here the buoyant, wavering tone from the saxist manages to mix Paul Desmond with Coleman, as an expanded vibrato vies for supremacy with irregular warbles and overblowing. Käppeli faithfully sounds his sizzle and crash cymbals and a series of false endings sum up the jaunty, roller coaster-like tune.

“Urs und Us (thin Version)”, the penultimate tune, is a bass solo. Here Studer’s slurred fingering and deliberate double stopping often operating in the space just below the tuning pegs, threatens to fade into somnolence. Luckily “Monster” wakes things up with spindly, trilled alto saxophone lines and focused rat-tat-tats from the drummer. From then on Käppeli expresses himself with double-barreled prolonged press rolls from one hand and-sizzle and ride cymbal emphasis from the other. Gallio contributes lower case smears and slides and Studer a final guitar-like lick.

Before this, Gallio’s longer tunes dedicated to friends who are artists and writers, appear to eschew simple swing for its own sake. Instead, emphasized are such techniques as tinny cymbal resonation and chain manipulation; a martial beat from the percussionist; straightforward plucks, tremolo bowing and shuffles from the bull fiddler; and hesitant trilling obbliagtos that sideslip into garrulous mico-tones from the saxman. At times Gallio’s work is intercut with long Webernean pauses, other times his soprano sax takes on an Arabian cast.

Perhaps the climax to this conception is reached on “Save”, where a buzzing bass continuum and drum bounces, flams and rebounds find the rhythm section members playing radically different but surprisingly accommodating backing lines. In front, Gallio uncharacteristically shrills honklets of almost bluesy equanimity and emotion. After double tonguing multiphonics he downshifts to smeared split tones as the bassist walks and the drummer rolls and bounces.

With these extended efforts the Swiss and Swedish approaches to improv are proven equally valid. Overall, though, LSB’s concentrated, pyrotechnical elaborations would seem to have the edge.