NELS CLINE/VINNY GOLIA

The Entire Time
Nine Winds NWCD 0259

RICK HELZER/VINNY GOLIA
Fancy Meeting You Here
Nine Winds NWCD 0224

Unforced collaborations between friends, these duo sessions illuminate the tactical differences needed when approaching any one-on-one free music interaction. Palpably, the strategy involves more than a categorical acknowledgement that one of the multi-reed master Vinny Golia’s partners is a pianist; the other a guitarist.

In spite of everything after all, both are chordal players faced with Golia’s stack of horns, which in pianist Rick Helzer’s case includes soprillo, sopranino, soprano, tenor and bass saxophones, saxello and contra bass flute, and on the CD with guitarist Alex Cline, introduce curved soprano, soprano and tenor saxophones, alto flute, bass clarinet, stritch, saxophone, xiao and dzi.

No, the real differences between these sessions is the academic verses the intuitive approach and intuitive knowledge verses musical friendship. Although Helzer, associate director of Jazz Studies, Theory and Piano at San Diego State University isn’t an ivory tower academic – he has performed with different touring jazz groups over the past 25 years — his note placement and sound choices are neat and buttoned-down during the 13 tracks of the almost 74-minute FANCY MEETING YOU HERE – a title that may be more definitive than jocular.

Similarly, despite his present membership in Wilco, and gigs with everyone from proto-punker Lydia Lunch to progressive music vibist Gregg Bendian, Cline, who plays electric 6 and 12-string guitars, nylon-string acoustic guitar, 12-string acoustic, effects pedal loops and megamouth on THE ENTIRE TIME isn’t your typical freelance guitar rocker. Encompassing references to evolutionary post-modern jazz, the CD is a summation of 26 years of on-and-off collaboration between him and the reedist. He was also a member of Golia’s quartet/quintet in the 1990s.

During the course of the performance, the two take advantage of as many axes as they can, as on “Divining”, the CD’s first, and, at almost 14 minutes, longest track. Here Cline’s effects pedal and loops make an atmospheric bed beneath the basso tones of Golia’s Oriental reed, adding electronic interference when the other switches to bass clarinet to produce wavering, lower-register split tones. Still, as can be expected from long time partners, often Cline’s 12-string licks almost mirror the swift clarinet smears, as finger picking reveb adds more drama to the reed’s flutter tonguing.

Parallel improvising continues during the almost 67 minutes of the disc until “Destination Deeth”, the final track. Using his effects pedal, loops and megamouth (sic), the guitarist produces abrasive scraped effects that mix with smeared flutter tonguing of Golia’s bass clarinet. Role reversal occurs during the exposition, as Cline fires microtones up and down the neck and the reedist’s wide vibrato follows behind. Roughly avoiding note collision, the two unite for watery flanges and almost bell-ringing pulses on the guitarist’s part and false registers and fluttered notes on Golia’s. Cline’s wavering waveforms then reverberate with pulsating delay as Golia’s squeaks, growls and tongue slaps meld with a staccato guitar line.

At the same time while some of the more outré improv makes it seems as if Golia’s bamboo flute has caused Cline to pull out a pipa, jazz inflections are never far from the surface. Not only does the saxophonist play stritch and tenor saxophone simultaneously on “Opus de Kirkus (for Rahsaan Roland Kirk)”, with slurred arpeggios meeting Cline’s frailing fills, but the fretman has also overdubbed the sound of sirens, birds and broken glass to further honor Kirk. Meanwhile, “For Oliver Lake”, written by Cline in 1977, moves from a pseudo March tempo to open up with intricate slurred fingering from the composer and surging burrs and trills from Golia’s curved soprano sax.

Proof that these impulses are still current despite Cline’s rock-orientation and Golia’s sometime preference for atonal sounds is shown in the two versions of “Smooth Surface, the Canals” On the first, the reedman’s Braxtonian irregular vibrations and expansive legato tone turns to triple tonguing as the guitarist’s chromatic strums become speedier and more tremolo. As heavy strokes from rapid flat picking change into focused slurred fingering, Golia responds with overblown trills and buzzy honks. “Smooth…”’s second run through is even more intense with soprano notes held longer and the guitar frailing harsher and harder. Matching flamenco-like downstrokes and guitar body percussion pounding, Cline spurs Golia to more expansive reed biting trills and slurs.

Nothing on FANCY MEETING YOU HERE is that liberating, but the pianist does expose an intriguing codicil in Golia’s work. Although some collaborative instant compositions and ones written singly by either man stretch out to this side of dissonance, the majority of the pianist’s own tunes are so wedded to traditional freebop that many of the saxophonist’s other improvisations leach into the so-called jazz field.

“Silent Voices” and the two versions of “Blue Sphere”, all Helzer lines for example, could with little prompting fit on many progressive mainstream CDs. On the first, Golia on tenor saxophone plays a restrained, light-toned solo as the piano man’s fingering is so tonic that he could be creating an equal temperament etude. His sweeping pinpoint note clusters evolve in an unforced Bill Evans-like style. Similarly “Blue Sphere” is a gentle swinger that could have come from the pen of Gigi Gryce or Benny Golson. As Helzer exercises clear-sounding patterned arpeggios, Golia drones a continuum from the bass flute that, following the outline of the piece, take on tuba qualities. The continuation of the line as the CD’s final track finds the flute tones overshadowed by beautifully shaped notes from the pianist that slip and slide into high-frequency tremolos.

Instructively, “Let’s All Sing the Arnold Griffith Song”, an instant composition slotted in between the two “Sphere”s, resembles a bastard boogie woogie with the pianist contributing some foot patting vamps and the tenor saxophonist a snoring, heavy vibrato in his playing that is probably the closest he comes to the Coleman Hawkins-Ben Webster school on record.

Even the two run-throughs of Golia’s “1st in the Fast Walking Julius Trilogy” appear to revolve around jazz-like time with Helzer’s strumming arpeggio-laden fingering almost blurring as he works his way through the tune. Eventually, in the first version, Golia’s screechy, snaky sopranino lines turn to split-tone vibrations and peeping reed biting as the pianist’s splintered notes coalesce into double counterpoint with Golia’s glissandi. “1st In … (part 2)” picks up the swing vibe from the pianist’s walking bass line and faster, screechier, broken chords from the reedist. As Helzer outlines metronomic high frequency notes the improvisational flow between the two finds Golia trilling a gentle counter line of completed possibilities as the two reprise the initial theme and its variations a coda.

Unfortunately the reality of working out on 13 tunes for almost 74 minutes weakens some of the piano-reed ESP, a quality that’s much more apparent on THE ENTIRE TIME. Unsurprisingly, Golia’s auteur sessions with his own combo and big band are superior, but both these discs are superior examples of his duo work.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fancy: 1. You Tell 'Em Kwai-Chung 2. Are We There Yet? 3. I Just Get Dizzy Watching You…4. 1st in the Fast Walking Julius Trilogy 5. All Upset About the Kirwood Dirby 6. 1st In the Fast Walking Julius Trilogy (part 2) 7. The Insidious Tortures of Brian Henderson 8. Silent Voices 9. Let’s All Sing the Arnold Griffith Song 10. Sub Code (for 5 soprillo saxophones) 11. Blue Sphere 12. Green on Purple 13. Blue Sphere (reprise)

Personnel: Fancy: Vinny Golia (soprillo, sopranino, soprano, tenor and bass saxophones, saxello and contra bass flute); Rick Helzer (piano)

Track Listing: Entire: 1. Divining 2. City Snow Stories 3. For Oliver Lake 4. The Tiny Boxes Speak Her Name 5. Smooth Surface, the Canals – one 6. Opus de Kirkus (for Rahsaan Roland Kirk) 7. Fond Remberances for Luther Talbot 8. Smooth Surface, the Canals – two 9. Destination Deeth

Personnel: Entire: Vinny Golia (curved soprano, soprano and tenor saxophones, alto flute, bass clarinet, stritch, saxophone, xiao, dzi); Nels Cline (electric 6 and 12-string guitars, nylon-string acoustic guitar, 12-string acoustic, effects pedal, loops and megamouth)