It’s Magnificent, But It Isn’t War
Family Vineyard FV35

Live at Vision Festival
Ayler aylCD-009

Featuring familiar instrumentation, these East Coast quartets give you a glimpse of how so-called avant-garde improv is now either traditional – if that’s not an oxymoron – and evolving.

New York-based Exuberance, featuring some of the busiest advanced musicians in that city, has given itself the ongoing task of extending the sound John Coltrane and other energy players first articulated in the 1960s. With members hailing from Connecticut, Boston and the Apple, Cold Bleak Heat (CBH) mixes traditional – there’s that word again – energy improvisation with minimalistic tendencies influenced by European microtonalism. Each CD provides a valid answer to the overriding question of how to produce memorable free music in the 21st century.

Both of Exuberance’s reedmen are common buds on the Coltrane tree branch of sax playing. Tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis is best-known for his affiliation with bands featuring former Trane drummer Rashied Ali, while and CBH’s alto and tenor saxophonist is Paul Flaherty, whose 30 years of recording and playing usually takes place in New England seclusion. Evocative, each can use advanced techniques to generate a performance by himself.

Bassist Hilliard Greene and percussionist Michael Wimberly of Exuberance and CBH’s bassist Matt Heyner and drummer Chris Corsano operate in similar rhythmic circumstances as well. However Wimberly’s use of djembe and Africanized vocals brings along the suggestion of ethnic music, while Heyner, who has guided the No Neck Blues Band, and Corsano, who plays with Sunburned Hand of the Man, have a rock sensibility, which they keep under check here.

But the maximum contrast is between the bands’ trumpeters. Exuberance’s Roy Campbell, who also plays flute here, is firmly in the Modern Jazz/Free Jazz tradition. He constantly works with bassist William Parker in many situations including the Other Dimensions in Music quartet and leads a jam in Harlem every Monday night. Antithetically Boston’s Greg Kelley is an outright experimenter. Member of numerous microtonal aggregations both large and small – most notably his nmperign duo with saxist Bhob Rainey – his role in CBH is to integrate his unfolding minimalistic trumpet notes with the distending energy sounds of Flaherty and Corsano.

You can hear this abrasive intersection most clearly in the CD’s centre section of elongated tunes – the almost 13-minute “Bloodshot Blink (Vanquished Teeth)”, the almost 11-minute “Raising the Dead (Freezer Fight)” and the mammoth, almost 16-minute, in-your-face “Love Conquers All, Motherfucker”.

Using a blow torch intensity that makes most Trane-influenced saxists sound like Kenny G, Flaherty begins “Raising…” , for example, with an extended, barbarous screech that promises to deliver what the title suggests. Breakneck slurs, slides and smears are ejaculated in double, triple and quadruple time, gathering the results into harsh vibrations. Irregular bangs are the drummer’s contribution, and the Heyner’s string overtones are scratched sul ponticello. Somehow producing a sort of discordant harmony with the saxophonist, Kelly’s bee-buzzing line seems to be expelled using only his mouthpiece.

Thumping bass lines and almost Native Indian-sounding drum ruffs make up the rhythm for “Bloodshot…” While the sepulchral reed resonates with R&B-related honks, Flaherty continues by splitting his accented and compressed lines into overtones and nodes. Buzzing and wandering pitches characterize his reed biting output along with atonal broken chords. Octave jumps and irregular, triple-tongued vibrations are Kelley’s response along with flutter tongued grace notes. Congruence and double counterpoint bring the horns together.

CBH’s ne plus ultra “Love Conquers All, Motherfucker”, finds Flaherty shouting through his body tube and gooseneck with a banshee’s vehemence, while also unleashing Aylerian cries of reed-busting vigor. Moving along from languishly slurred flattement and doits, he heads skywards, pursued by Corsano’s rolling sticks on hollow drum tops and speedy paradiddles. All the while, Kelley evolves from mouthpiece oscillation to darting single notes to —then ramming out a dense, solid tone. Soon he’s triple tonguing around sequenced honks that appear to have been produced by the saxman blowing through mouthpiece sans reed.

The drummer’s tom-tom-like, war party drum pounding signals a modulation to a calmer pace as Kelley’s shaking obbligato accompanies the reedist as if the later was a torch singer. Finale involves the echoing bounces that result from both shouting in double counterpoint through the lead pipe and body tube respectively.

Elsewhere, sounds may be more muted or legato, with the four advancing from rubato cohesion to free-for-all atonalism. But whether stentorian or altissimo the sounds meld into an impressive display of advanced Free Music.

LIVE is notable too, but again in its relation to Free Jazz, rather than Free Music. Throughout Campbell proves himself a flashier trumpeter than Kelley, exhibiting shredded arpeggios and gaudy triplets. But he never moves beyond the bounds of good taste. A four-part suite, titled like Coltrane’s A LOVE SUPREME, the two shorter final numbers and the first “Invocation” intermingle the world influences from Wimberly’s hourglass-shaped djembe with the contrapuntal muted jazz shakes and irregularly-vibrated tones of the tenor saxophonist.

Frankly, Belogenis’ mid-period Trane-like pecking runs and vibrated cadences save the first piece from sinking into standard so-called world music, when the cries and drumbeats begin to be extended with Campbell’s wavering flute timbres. The reedist’s agitated, multiphonics encourage the brassman to revert to trumpet and begin blasting airy triplets and shakes as descending counterbalance.

Showcase of all this is “Procession”, where Greene, now gigging with saxophonist Charles Gayle, asserts himself, resonating his strings with thick plucks as well as sounding as if he’s hitting them with mallets. During its course, Campbell occupies himself with soaring shakes, while Belogenis is involved in duets with each of the rhythm section members. Aware of the comparisons a drum-tenor duet has with Trane’s work with Ali, only here does he improvise with a pronounced (Archie) Sheppian burr as Wimberly outlines a bluesy shuffle beat. Honking and squeaking, he works on overblowing and glottal punctuation. As the drummer exposes his inner Clyde Stubblefield (of James Brown’s band), Belogenis climaxes with a wide funky honk causing not a few complementing screams from his bandsmen and the audience. Greene’s triple-stopping spiccato movements, on the other hand, encourage diminuendo balladic variations from the tenor man. Eventually though, his twisting and swelling arco lines drive the saxophonist to overblow altissimo into far reaches of his reed, ending with animal cries and shredded multiphonics.

Each of these bands can be enjoyed by the committed improv fancier, with Cold Bleak Heat having a bit of an edge for attempting an evolution beyond energy music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: War: 1. Never Give ‘Em What They Want 2. The Blue Days of Varicose Veins 3. Bloodshot Blink (Vanquished Teeth) 4. Raising the Dead (Freezer Fight) 5. Love Conquers All, Motherfucker 6. You Only Live For Infinity 7. Is That All You Got?

Personnel: War: Greg Kelley (trumpet); Paul Flaherty (alto and tenor saxophones); Matt Heyner (bass); Chris Corsano (drums)

Track Listing: Vision: 1. Invocation 2. Procession 3. Evocation 4. Incandescence

Personnel: Vision: Roy Campbell Jr. (trumpet and flute); Louie Belogenis (tenor saxophone); Hilliard Greene (bass); Michael Wimberly (djembe, drums and vocals)