FREEDOMLAND

Yia Yia’s Song
rent control records rcrcd 012

STEVE SWELL
Slammin’ the Infinite
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1175

Notes from New York’s Lower East Side underground, these two fine sessions show that the spirit of experimentation still shines brightly whether the sounds are called avant garde, the New Thing or Ecstatic Jazz.

What the nine improvisers are playing here is really noting less than intense modern music, but these sounds are often labeled unconventional since the neo-cons have perverted the idea of modern mainstream.

No matter, featured on SLAMMIN’ THE INFINITE and YIA YIA’S SONG is a literal who’s who of top-flight players. A co-op band, Freedomland is one of the myriad groups that feature bassist William Parker and reedist/trumpeter Daniel Carter. Other members are alto and baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson and bass saxophonist David Hofstra — who splits and tuba duty with Parker here – also are in Parker’s Little Huey Creative Orchestra (LHCO). Band drummer, Ex-Bush Tetra Dee Pop plays with a variety of other improvisers. Two other LHCO members, trombonist Steve Swell and reedist Sabir Mateen, are featured on SLAMMIN’ THE INFINITE. Matt Heyner, bassist on that date is in the band TEST with Carter and Mateen. Only German-born drums Klaus Kugel isn’t a regular downtowner. In Europe however he has longtime associations with other progressive Continental musicians such as trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and saxophonist Michel Pilz.

Heir to the avant tailgate style of Roswell Rudd, trombonist Swell, who wrote all the tunes on SLAMMIN’ THE INFINITE, is his own man, adding bop articulation and speed to classic smears and shouts in his solos. Broken counterpoint involving his horn and Mateen’s helps focus, “For Frank Lowe”, a hushed threnody for the recently departed first generation New Thinger. It also shows that these musical explorers know the tradition as well as the neo-cons that claim a monopoly on it.

“Box Set”, a stop-and-go piece, confirms this. Built on a freebop theme from both horns, walking bass and the Kugel’s press rolls, it could have been played by the New York Art Quartet in 1966. As it is, the episodic theme recapitulations give plenty of room for Mateen and Swell to open up. The later offers a double-tongued set of rubato slurs, while the later is in irregularly vibrated Aylerian tenor mode with upper-pitched squeaks. The title track is more of the same, although it features legato blowing from Swell. Also notable are Heyner’s long, loping lines at the beginning and his slurred focused bowing that plucks out individual notes, amplified with a burst of spiccato at the end.

“Dresden Art Maneuvers”, at a second less than 18 minutes, is the set’s tour-de-force. Commencing with a throbbing ostinato bass line plus hunt-and-peck martial drum action, it eventually redefines itself into a series of orchestral miniatures. A cappella, Matten twists out obtuse clarinet timbres, Swell slides out muted and open-horn blats, growls and plunges; Kugel contributes door-knocking raps and a double-quick rush over elevated toms; and Heyner creates a resonating tuning peg-scraping bass line.

A little farther on, the bassist’s grating tone almost push his higher strings into erhu territory – a tone that’s joined by harmonic interjections from rattled bells and shaken cymbals, a wavering tenor sax and bisected by a chromatic trombone line. For a climax, the elliptical trombone exhalation is matched by mirroring movements from the bass.

If the CD does have a modest downside, it’s when Kugel gets overexcited — or the mix is unbalanced — and he threatens to mask one or another of the others’ work.

When everything is taken into consideration, though, the CD is a fine example of how four in-tune musicians can accompany and complement one another. It’s another stellar achievement for Swell and company.

The same could be said for YIA YIA’S SONG, though here the kudos have to be divided five not four ways. Or maybe that number should be a dozen, since that’s the collective count of instruments the five use. Only Pop sticks to the singular traps set —though the odd percussion fillip can be heard. On the other hand, Carter is the most versatile, turning in beatific work on alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, flute and trumpet. The prototypical modest sideman — which is probably why he’s so busy in New York — he can contribute a flute tone as rarefied as those created by a legit symphony section player, or blast a plunger line from his trumpet as hot and unrefined as a Dixielander – often on the same piece.

You can hear that on the title tune, which also allows the others to show off their quick-change identities. Undulating flute carries the main theme, which is complemented by a rugged bass ostinato, stuttering cross harmonies from alto saxophonist Sewelson and simian-like ritualistic cries from all concerned. Pop, who could be auditioning for Papa Wemba, sounds as if he’s resonating bugarabu or djembe drums as well as mythic Africanized little instruments.

Hofstra’s bass saxophone tone is restrained here to harmonize with the lead alto line, but on the almost 16½-minute “One Blue Eye”, he gets to stretch and speechify from the farthest reaches of his sax, adding to the harmonic Donnybrook of the others. With the other saxophones whinnying, irregularly pitched and jutting across the bar lines, his reed monster billows, buckles and snorts. Finger cymbal cracks and double stopping bass lines presage pedal point bass sax action with broken horn harmonies vamping behind. Carter adds musette-like writhing counterpoint from his clarinet and Parker, elephant-like trumpeting from his tuba,. Meanwhile, Sewelson, unperturbed, plays a fairly legato alto line.

However elsewhere, in some of his solo spots on baritone, Sewelson confirms his fellowship with Freedomland’s other members of by skronking Pat Patrick-like pitch vibrations with the same facility he brings to mellow Gerry Mulligan-like moderato expositions elsewhere.

If you can’t afford the time and expense to hang out in Manhattan’s East Village or Lower East Side, these two CDs will give you an authentic picture of the freeform music thriving there.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Yia: 1. Don’t Throw Out The Sky 2. Yia Yia’s Song 3. One Green Eye 4. Moonbeams in a Jar 5. One Blue Eye

Personnel: Yia: Daniel Carter (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, flute and trumpet); Dave Sewelson (alto and baritone saxophones); David Hofstra (tuba and bass saxophone); William Parker (bass and tuba); Dee Pop (drums)

Track Listing: Slammin’: 1. With the Morning Hope 2. East Village Meet and Greet 3. Box Set 4. Dresden Art Maneuvers 5. Slammin’ the Infinite 6. Voices from the Asphalt 7. For Frank Lowe

Personnel: Slammin’: Steve Swell (trombone), Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet, alto clarinet and flute); Matt Heyner (bass); Klaus Kugel (drums)