Souls Saved Hear
Thirsty Ear THI 5751.2

Smash the Tomatoes
ILK q04.1

Catapulting drum rhythms, chiming guitar runs and inventive saxophone lines unite this American trio and Danish quartet. But each has worked out its own way to mold the excitement of rock and adroit improvisations without falling into the trap of splashy fusion.

The secret of success seems to involve original compositions from more than one band member, an imaginative fretman, a laid-back drummer and a subtle reedist. Yet interestingly enough, the young Danes and slightly older Americans are affiliated in such a way that the MS4 could be siblings of Big Satan.

Both guitarist Mark Solborg and reedist Anders Banke lived in New York — Big Satan’s stomping ground — before returning to Copenhagen. In the Apple they were part of the so-called downtown scene that includes Satan’s saxist Tim Berne, drummer Tom Rainey and sometimes guitarist Marc Ducret. Berne himself has done projects with Danish musicians, including saxophonist Lotte Anker who also employs Solborg. Meanwhile, Paris-based Big Satanist Ducret is featured on MS4’s drummer Stefan Pasborg’s first solo CD, TOXIKUM (ILK TCB 004).

One shouldn’t make too much of the connection however. After all, MS4’s bassist Jeppe Skovbakke, one of the busiest in Copenhagen, plays with a clutch of local groups, as well as visitors like American saxist George Garzone. Banke’s gigs include a long-time commitment to Pierre Dørge’s Jungle Orchestra. On his own, Ducret has played with everyone from French drummer Daniel Humair to American tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby.

All and all though, it’s the taste exhibited by each guitarist and drummer that fully defines the two sessions. SMASH THE TOMATOES’ title tune for instance just skirts head banging. But Pasborg performs a bombast bypass with a shuffle that’s half Reggae and half Second Line, while Solborg introduces distorted lines that simultaneously reflect country picking. Flutter tonguing and reed-biting, Banke adds some sluicing buzzes on top.

Compare that to “Mr. Subliminal” on SOULS SAVED. Written by Berne, it shoehorns many time and tempo changes into the barely more than seven-minute track. Ducret starts things off double flanging with chromatic guitar runs that have plenty of echo. The alp horn-like echoes from the top portion of Berne’s sax soon break into split tones and squeaks so that it almost sounds as if he’s playing the bagpipes. Following that, there’s the intermingling of a second theme that’s all spiky horn lines and slurred guitar tones. Gradually, over a steady undercurrent of paradiddles from Rainey, the guitarist works his way to country music-like licks, while the altoist seems to be sounding out nursery rhyme melodies.

It’s Rainey’s taste and subtly that mute any power trio tendencies on the part of the others. Plus he brings that same restraint to his compositions. “Hostility Suite”, for instance, is a misnomer. Although initially designed as a showcase for Ducret’s wah-wah pedal and his exploration of tapered echoes that could be pre-programmed from a computer, guitar lines and stops and smears from Berne combine into an intermezzo of eiderdown-smooth pulsations and extended legato tones.

Throughout the three demonstrate polyrhythmic accord and overriding numerous counterpoint. Lines intersect and break apart as Rainey’s ratcheting rim shots accompany peeps, flattement and doits from Berne — to take one example. Or Ducret’s heavy feedback distortion and finger slides meet the drummer’s double time ruffs and flams.

Snaky lines are tossed back-and-forth as on “Ce sont les noms des mots”, where draws back to extended acoustic guitar finger-picking from the fretman finally reveal the theme in legato smears from Berne. Rainey’s understated pulse balance’s the saxist’s altissimo smears and honks plus the guitarist’s distorted reverb until ringing chords complete the hardening and slackening of the theme.

That lead off track has echoes in the CD’s final number, a strategy similar to what unrolls on SMASH THE TOMATOES. More POMO however, both the Danish band’s first and final tracks are constructed out of loops and sine-wave space ship sounds sourced from elsewhere and re-imagined by the guitarist.

Banke’s reed arsenal gives MS4 more scope than Berne’s single horn in Big Satan however. “Toast”, for instance, is a full bore rocker featuring bottom-feeding baritone sax snorts and distorted reverb from the guitar, while “Slow Motion” floats chalumeau clarinet lines on top of strumming guitar fills and spreading ride cymbal textures.

“Unspoken”, a slower-moving power ballad, provides the best showcase for Pasborg’s drumming which moves from chain rattling and manipulation of unselected cymbals to bata-like resonation and eventual metallic cymbal scrapes and faux tam tam rattles. With Banke exhibiting sluicing coloratura clarinet work, Solborg demonstrates his jazzy fingerpicking on “Don Goppel”. Sounding more like Jim Hall than Jimi Hendrix, his work adds to strength to the straightforward, happy number that is held together by Skovbakke’s bass line and could be ascribed to the Hot Club of Denmark.

Skovbakke’s underutilization in anything but a supporting role is one CD weakness, though. The other shortcoming confirms the MS4’s comparative youth. “Bromf”, despite reed-biting squeals and tremolo traffic-jam reverb from the guitarist ends up as an “Iron Man” soundalike, meandering to rock rhythms not the superior jazz-like pulse the band maintains elsewhere.

Still everyone is allowed a few growing pains early in his career. Both these discs prove that harder and faster beats plus electric overtones can create fine discs as long as excesses are held in check.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Smash: 1. Welcome 2. Toast 3. Slow Motion 4. Smash the Tomatoes 5. Two Train Sleepers 6. Bromf 7. Unspoken 8. Don Who? 9. Don Goppel 10. Great Barrier

Personnel: Smash: Anders Banke (alto, tenor and baritone saxophone and clarinets); Mark Solborg (guitar); Jeppe Skovbakke (bass); Stefan Pasborg (drums)

Track Listing: Souls: 1. Ce sont les noms des mots 2. Hostility Suite 3, Geez 4. Rampe 5. Emportez-moi 6. Deadpan 7. Mr. Subliminal 8. Property Shark 9. Plantain Surgery

Personnel: Souls: Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Marc Ducret (acoustic and electric guitars); Tom Rainey (drums)