Undisputed master of the Free Improv trombone, Britain’s Paul Rutherford has somehow never become as well-known as his compatriots like Americans Ray Anderson and Roswell Rudd or Continental Europeans such as Albert Mangelsdorff of Germany or Wolter Wierbos of the Netherlands.

Perhaps it’s because Rutherford’s most celebrated period of creativity that encompassed his pioneering solo LP, THE GENTLE HARM OF THE BOURGEOISE, and his membership in the Iska 1903 trio with violinist Philipp Wachsmann and bassist Barry Guy, came in the early 1970s, a particularly fallow time for Free Improv. Born in 1940, he was a little too young to be New Thinger and a little too old to be celebrated when fresh-faced younger improvisers made a modest splash in the 1990s.

Still Rutherford continued and continues to play inventively, as this reissued, plus CD proves. The first tracks, which are in essence one long improvisation from a 1983 British jazz festival were originally issued as an Ogun cassette — doesn’t that sound antebellum-like now. Added are three never-before-released tracks by the same trio recorded six months later, including one on which Rutherford plays euphonium. All this brings the single CD to a thrifty music-for-money length of almost 77 minutes.

Besides Rogers’ darting tongues and ever-flowing stock of ideas, GHEIM valuably offers revealing exposure to his accompanists. Bassist Paul Rogers, now best-known for his membership in pianist Keith Tippet’s Mujician and long-time partnership with reedist Paul Dunmall, was playing on one of first recordings. A bit under-recorded in the live portion, he more-or-less functions as the trombonist’s alter ego, extending Rutherford’s ideas with an instrument close in pitch to the ‘bone. Known as a jazz-rocker, drummer Nigel Morris, who had studied with Philly Joe Jones and John Stevens — Rutherford’s early employer in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble — is sensitive to the leader’s moves and breaks up the time with a variety of stratagems. Unhappily he has been absent from the BritImprov scene since the early 1990s.

Pivotal to all this is, of course, “Gheim 1” and “Gheim 2”, which together add up to 49½ minutes — longer than most LPs of the time. Intentionally (free) jazzier than most of Rutherford’s music, the piece allows the drummer to call upon more of his Jones than his Stevens’ lessons. His specialties here are rim-shot accents and splashy cymbal colors. Rogers confines himself to powerful strums and pointed spiccato.

Probably cognizant of the supposed limitations of his instrument, Rutherford himself is a marvel, turning well-modulated lines into elongated, buzzing lip exercises and circular burrs plus burbling wheezes. Two-thirds of the way through the first track his theme variations turn to repetitions of unabashed echoing tones until he begins snorting out tuba-like notes to meet Morris’ rumbles and rolls. Next strategy is to smoothly sail into a chromatic pattern that sluices from mouse squeaks to boar snorts, adding odd cries and tongue juxtapositions.

Hi-hat action from the drummer and scraped lines from the bass underlie the garbled shouts that help ease the trombone into a more balladic section that is “Gheim 2”. When he can be heard, Rogers ingenious counterlines almost become secondary brass shouts, as his arco slashes meld with fluttering trombone tonguing. Getting louder as he improvises more quickly, Rutherford tinges his solo with some J. J. Johnson-like triplets, repetitive trills and booming blasts. Morris freely works his way around his kit, adding a vaudevillian buck and wing beat to the music hall allusions that peer from Rutherford’s solo. As Rogers’ stopped counter motifs add further bass color, the trombonist accelerates to scoops and articulated flutter tonguing that brings the piece down to low tones and ends it to enthusiastic applause.

Rogers’ double-stopping plucks and pounces are clearer on the studio tracks as is his Rutherford-mirroring tone strategy. Then when he solos, sliding busy fingers up-and-down the bass’s neck, the situation reverses and the trombonist uses plunger variations to accompany the bassist.

With the euphonium solo not sounding that much different than his slide work, “Crontak” is more memorable since Rutherford develops contrapuntal lines echoed by rattling drum tops and cymbals plus squeezed string timbres from Rogers. Constructing an arco counterpoint that’s midway between harmonica tones and tuning up, the bassist slyly comments on the trombonist’s glistening obbligatos in the tune’s final section.

Trombone fanatics will likely be lining up for this disc.

_- Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Gheim 1 2. Gheim 2 3. Brandak 4. Crontak 5. Prindalf

Personnel: Paul Rutherford (trombone and euphonium*); Paul Rogers (bass); Nigel Morris (drums)