JOHN HEWARD TRIO

Let Them Pass/Laissez-Passer
Drimala DR 04 347-02

MICHAEL BISIO
Composance
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1173

Held together by the substantial bass playing of Seattle’s Michael Bisio, these trio sessions are still more different than alike.

Led by Montreal-based visual artist and drummer John Heward and featuring the reeds of Joe Giardullo, both of whom have extensive playing history with multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee — as does Bisio — LET THEM PASS is an out and out free music session. Recorded 3,000 miles away in his hometown, Bisio’s COMPOSANCE not only features two other Left Coast improvisers, showcasing what he calls improvisers composing and performing simultaneously — as the awkward title tries to convey — but is also Freebop. More often than not, echoes of one of the bassist’s admitted influences — Charles Mingus — is heard.

All this is done with a substantially smaller band then Mingus ever led, and lacking three instruments that were part of almost every Mingus date: trombone, saxophone and piano. Bisio’s soloing and accompanying takes up part of the slack, as does the varied percussion of young Greg Campbell — who has played with saxophonist Wally Shoup — and the under-celebrated brassman Rob Blakeslee. Blakeslee, who plays trumpet and flugelhorn, has been featured to good effect in big bands and small groups led by multi-reedist Vinny Golia.

Oddly enough, “Charles Too!” the composition named in honor of Mingus doesn’t sound as Mingusian in execution as “CRT”, which honors two saxophone giants - - John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins is a guess. On it, as Campbell breaks up the beat with flourishes, Bisio showcases fleet pizzicato finger work, the trumpeter double tongues as he moves up the scale. The bassman’s woody, resonating tone helps as he walks, the drummer showcases proper bop cymbal work and Blakeslee never sounds a sour note at any tempo.

The more-than-10½ minute “Charles Too!” on the other hand, features gamelan-like rebounds from Campbell that mesh with Bisio’s ponticello swipes that echo as they unroll. As the bassist bows, short percussion resonation is joined by sharper vibes-like sounds and a cymbal beat. With two snaking string melodies, it seems as if the bassist is playing two bull fiddles at once — or at least is manipulating two bows on different parts of his axe. Entering at midpoint, Blakeslee phrases in an unhurried Miles Davis-like manner, quickening his high pitches so that he ends with short strangled toots. Finally emphasizing his bottom tones, Bisio stays andante as Campbell explodes into a multi-rhythmic metal fest. Finally, a near ecclesiastical, arco bass and trumpet intermezzo sums up the melody.

Duke Ellington, another of Bisio’s — and Mingus’ — influences gets his due on “Come Sunday”, where Campbell’s melodious and resonant French horn lines split the partials of the tune as do wheezing trumpet slurs and bee-busy bass shuffles.

Many of the other pieces are episodic in nature, with the three displaying polyphonic tonality and distinct interpretations. Bisio strums flamenco-like chords and finger picks, Blakeslee outputs strangled trumpet breaths and a wide rubato tone, and Campbell brings out the metallic qualities of his extended kit with asymmetric drum pulses.

This versatility is especially noticeable on the title track where the percussionist moves sequentially onto the snares, bass drum and cymbals. Hand-hitting the strings, Bisio digs and scratches until he lets loose with a snatch of Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle”. Soaring, jagged phrases come from the trumpeter until climax is reached. Then, throat-clenching unconnected phrases mix with fingernail scraped bass strings and the resonation of unselected cymbals.

These sorts of unique timbres are more common on LET THEM PASS, which also has Giardullo playing one of four reeds: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute and piccolo, plus featuring extended percussion and bass techniques from Bisio and Heward. All three reach true concordance on the final three tracks — of seven — which unsurprisedly are titled “Let Them Pass Five … Six … Seven”.

“Seven” and “Five” give full rein to Giardullo’s Aylerian tenor saxophone styling which enlivens earlier tracks as well. Making use of flattement and spetrofluctuation, split tones turn to overblowning as timbres morph into extended cries and grainy growls. Double-tonguing, the tenorist produces as much motion as sound, and that sound is a trilling squeal that quickens as the piece go on. Reaching a point where reed variations start shredding the upper partials into honks and exaggerated shrieks, Heward contributes ratamacues and flams from his snares and cymbals, while Bisio’s arco sweeps and pizzicato finger picking complement the others’ output perfectly. Percussion rattles and nerve beats buttress Bisio to produce a sluicing bass solo that resonates outwards from his f-holes. Turning straightahead, the bassist meets tam tam intimations from Heward as the saxman reprises the theme with variations.

Both section men are polyrythmically more inventive on “Five” with the drummer seemingly rubbing his sticks over the heads and cymbals rather than hitting them, and the bassist turning to slurred bowing. Although the reedist begins with squeaky sax runs, a couple of minutes on it sounds as if his (overdubbed?) bass clarinet is there as well, adding great, hollow contrapuntal echoes.

Antithetically “Six” is a showcase for alto flute smudges emanating and sympathetically vibrated ponticello bass strings. Using the space and openness available with dissonance, textures soon meld. When Bisio turns to col legno bow percussion, Giardullo adds piercing trills to occupy the other part of the harmonic concordance.

Earlier on the CD, Heward’s counter rhythm invoke everything from thumb piano textures to Arabic-style ceremonial percussion and Bisio’s wavering tonal rhythms stay focused no matter the surroundings. If Giardullo creates peeping piccolo tones, the bassist answers with slurred bowing; should the reedist’s output spetrofluctuation that really sounds trumpet-like, he accompanies it that way; and when smooth bass clarinet lines take on a Middle-Eastern cast, then Bisio emphasizes oud-like bass gestures.

Depending on your capacity for atonality, you can be satisfied with either of these sessions or both. LET THEM PASS is only available at www.drimala.com but that should be a minor impediment.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Pass: 1. Let Them Pass One 2. Let Them Pass Two 3. Let Them Pass Three 4. Let Them Pass Four 5. Let Them Pass Five 6. Let Them Pass Six 7. Let Them Pass Seven

Personnel: Pass: Joe Giardullo (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute and piccolo); Michael Bisio (bass); John Heward (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Composance: 1. CRT 2. Refused 3. Charles Too! 4. Less Than 5. Yo’ Mike Kleimo Here 6. Composance 7. Come Sunday 8. Pretty Boy, Pig Face and the Family God

Personnel: Composance: Rob Blakeslee (trumpet and flugelhorn); Michael Bisio (bass); Greg Campbell (percussion and French horn)