Sunny Murray/John Edwards/Tony Bevan

Home cooking in the UK

By Ken Waxman

November 29, 2004

Deeply felt music transcends arbitrary definitions attached to terminology, generation or nationalism. You can hear that clearly on this standout live session by three exceptional improvisers.

What could cause disquiet is that two of the players — bassist John Edwards and saxophonist Tony Bevan — are baby boomers and committed British Free Music players. Part of that sometimes-insular scene, they often work with guitarist Derek Bailey, major domo of that genre, who insists on Free Music’s distance from Jazz. Yet the third participant in this series of first-time meetings, recorded on tour in Britain, is 67-year-old drummer Sunny Murray. Not only is Murray, who lives in Paris, a jazzman without compromise, but he was one of the men who helped birth the so-called New Thing. He held the drum chair with both Cecil Taylor’s and Albert Ayler’s trios in the mid-1960s and afterwards led or participated in a clutch of sessions that defined so-called Energy Music.

Be that as it may, everything musical meshes on the three long tracks found here. For someone who participated in creating the style also stuck with the label Fire Music, Murray is still a remarkable subtle percussionist, sensitive to every shade and nuances in the others’ players. Bevan and Edwards’ output, while non-idiomatic, has the toughness that moves it about as far away from the precious, so-called insect music of doctrinaire BritImprovisers as Murray’s is from bebop.

That said, the centrepiece of the CD is the nearly 29-minute title tune, which at times takes on freebop configurations. But it’s just one of the references that show up as the bubbling foghorn-like bluster of Bevan’s buzzing bass saxophone finds common ground with Edwards’ sul tasto arco patterns and Murray’s barely-there cymbal and drum top rattles.

Shunned by most musicians except for Adrian Rollini (1904-1956), the unwieldy bass sax gives Bevan and unprecedented range — and he makes the most of it. Double tonguing and smearing, he blasts stentorian honks from his horn’s bottom range, produces snappy doits and slides from its mid-register, and ejaculates irregularly vibrated split tones from its screaming top range. Dexterous as well as glottal, at several points he moves into Sonny Rollins’ tenor saxophone-like mode for split seconds, often sounding as if he’s playing parts of half-forgotten jazz standards without revealing the shape of the melody. Other time he introduces buzz-saw obbligatos in false registers that lacerate any stray notes and chords that fall in their way.

Unable to match Bevan’s aural authority, the bassist and drummer take a different tack, projecting strength from understatement. Murray wipes the toms and spanks the snares with pixie-light jumps more often than he crashes and rolls. Edwards strums with a 12-string guitar-like intensity, and at one point introduces languid ponticello lines that shuffle accelerated and decelerated timbres from the strings. He even plays some modern jazz-inflected walking bass. Other times, his rattling, buzzing lower strings can mirror in almost verbal unison the reverberating snorts of Bevan’s reed beast.

Although the reedist’s serpentine circular-breathed melodies and altissimo triple tonguing confirm his versatility throughout, he lets loose with protracted sepulchral blasts just before the finale to ultimately remind you that he’s playing the low-pitched sibling of the saxophone family.

Earlier, Murray supplies an object lesson in Free Jazz drumming, applying just enough torque to vary the rhythm from flams, drags and forced ratamacues, clattering the cymbals. Then the saxman responds by sprays stuttering split tones at him.

“Split Decision”, the final track with Bevan on tenor saxophone, is more fervent than the others, with the reedman’s snaking tone and false fingering moving over time from double-tongued moderato to dog whistle screeches and grainy, speedy overblowing. As the saxman speeds up his output so do the other two — and Edwards promptly strokes an assembly line of bass tones from his axe. As he boots the bull fiddle’s output still further, Bevan sounds nearly frenzied and almost ragged, spitting into the reed and mouthpiece without waiting for each sound to exit the bell. Finally the bassist modulates down to near silence, Murray repeatedly crashes his cymbal — then produces a conclusive press roll.

A fine trio effort, the CD should impress most listeners, no matter on which side of the Free Jazz-Free Music line they may stand.