Shadow Intersections West
Cadence Jazz CJR 1160

Leo Records LR 399

Trios made up of an alto saxophonist, a percussionist and a cellist are the points of comparison between these two sessions. Yet despite the similarities each is different in execution, if not conception.

Nominally under the leadership of veteran Washington, D.C.-based percussionist Paul Murphy, who made his name played with the late saxophonists Jimmy Lyons and Glenn Spearman, the first CD features nine instant compositions with considerable input from the other players. They’re Bay area alto man Marco Eneidi, another close Spearman associate, and cellist Kash Killion, who at one point was in Sun Ra’s Arkestra. Improvisational to the max, the only criticism that can be leveled at the performance is that most tunes merely stop, without really reaching a climax or conclusion.

As group-improvised as the other disc, CONFLUXUS avoids some of those abrupt endings, but that may be because cellist Brent Arnold and alto saxophonist Wally Shoup have been playing together since the mid-1990s. Someone who has done string arrangements and played for singers Sleater-Kinney, Arnold appears content to mostly stay in the background and provide the pulse on which the other two vibrate. Japan-born, Philadelphia-based percussionist Toshi Makihara has performed with experimental music ensembles plus dance and theatre companies. His association with Shoup began in 1999 when the two recorded with Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore. Someone who has followed a singular path for many years, reedist Shoup has recorded with New York bassist Reuben Radding and played with just about every outside musician who comes through Seattle.

Mixing influences that take in pre-and-post-electric Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus, the Murphy three work out heads that vary according to the prominence of each instrument. Unamplified, Killion’s playing can suggest that of an electric bass, then turn around and outline the most legitimate sounding cello tone. Spiccato, his splayed timbres enliven most of the output, and there are times you could swear he’s using both a piccolo fiddle and a double bass. Walking bass lines aren’t foreign to him either.

Supple in his power and restraint, textural rumbles and bounces characteristic Murphy’s playing. He also avoids excessive percussion displays. Commanding when he applies bass drum pedal pressure or keeps up ride cymbal action, it often appears as if he’s teasing his snares, rather than playing them. Metallic-like cuts from Killion’s cello and single note expositions from Eneidi are met with the same equanimity from Murphy.

Taking a lead role, the alto man sticks to extended techniques in his solos, though there are times intimations of standards can almost be heard. On “Ghibli”, for instance, his timbres are lengthened to such an extent that a drastic recasting of “Somewhere” is implied. Beginning with two minutes of up-and-down trills and sideslipping slurs, double tonguing finally ushers the other two into the piece with cymbal color and double-stopping. Eneidi completes the cycle with double and triple tonguing, harsh smears and extended snaps and growls. The cellist provides spiccato friction and Murphy rumbles. Finally as the reedist hurls single notes as a thematic reprise, the tune gradually fades away.

“Locked-Up” is frenzied quasi-bop, encompassing rattling cymbals and a steady bass pulse. As the saxist’s jagged trills and repetitive triads are spit out fast and furious, he could be playing “Salt Peanuts”. Murphy’s contribution is snare color and bomb dropping as the piece gets more intense and double quick. With broken octaves, Eneidi’s diminuendo finds him caressing the lines and ending by playing Broadway show-tune-like constructions.

“Rouge”, which takes on a Mingusian cast through Killion’s bass strings, finds the altoist moving from breathy John Handy — with Mingus — territory to sharp, resonating reed vibrations that turn brutal and abstract. Everything is framed by single whaps and reverberating rolls from Murphy and double-stopping from Killion. Reed snorts and flattement then slow down the cellist to isolated picking and the drummer to individual pops or cymbal shimmers.

SHADOW INETSRSECTION WEST has definite track breaks, while the 10 tunes that make up the other CD often seem as they are one continuous suite. Throughout, Arnold usually confines himself to polyphonic note doubling with the saxophonist, counterpoint accompaniment, centred pizzicato runs, droning ponticello continuum and flat-picking near the tuning pegs.

This last gesture follows a section in “Inside Straight” when Arnold maintains dialogue with Shoup’s spetrofluctuation with pulsating cross bowing. Makihara contributes scurrying squirrel-like scratches, rim shots and press rolls. Other places however, Shoup comes up with crow-cawing striated tonal undulations that Makihara matches with what sounds like hand drumming.

Although the reedist’s m.o. often includes sideslipping, piercing growls and other extended techniques played at a rapid pace, there are a few instances when slower tempi are called for and utilized. “Luminage” is one of the former. Here tongue slaps and buzzed split tones from Shoup face ratcheting scrapes and constant concussions from Makihara, as Arnold shuffles out tremolo double string bowing. Pushing into the realm of odd metered sounds and friction, the cellist’s ponticello drone adds to a straight on cymbal and a snare attack from the drummer as Shoup, with an even more abstract and diffuse timbre, continues to squeal lustily.

As for the later, “Double Pump” is all waggling lines twisted and doubled built on flute like-cadences from the cello. Meantime Shoup adapts an almost Eastern European stuttering tone from the alto, stridently ascending to dragged nail on blackboard timbre and the drummer follows suit with ratchets and direct kit hits.

For a finale, “Fault Line” finds Shoup almost mellow and Arnold undeniably legato as the two mesh for a jagged cello and sax duet. As the saxman descends from some muezzin-like extended pulses to deeper-pitched honks and snores, the cello line follows him southwards. Ending is the unison expelling of stammering flutter tonguing and a low string swell.

With the right people and techniques involved, sax, drums and cello are perfectly adequate for expressing the most complex musical ideas.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Confluxus: 1. Two Breaths Away 2. Joyride 3. Inside Straight 4. Convergence for Three 5. Secret Tear 6. Luminage 7. Con Fluxus 8. Double Pump 9. Conversance 10. Fault Line

Personnel: Confluxus: Wally Shoup (alto saxophone); Brent Arnold (cello); Toshi Makihara (drums)

Track Listing: Shadow: 1. Outlines 2, Spectral Traces 3. Ghibli 4. Duo 5. “Winds Run” 6. Ixion 7. Rouge 8. Jacinthe 9. Locked-Up

Personnel: Shadow: Marco Eneidi (alto saxophone); Kash Killion (cello); Paul Murphy (drums)