Tony Bevan

Bruised
Foghorn Records

Floros Floridis
F.L.O.R.O. III (Further Lines Over Rough Options)
j.n.d. re-records

By Ken Waxman
August 8, 2005

Unlike rockers, classical recitalists and even mainstream jazzers, committed improvisers have a compulsion to constantly involve themselves in novel situations with new players or new instruments. For them, repetition is the same as stasis.

Thus these two CDs find accomplished reedists who have recorded noteworthy acoustic duo and trio discs, setting up more of a challenge by welcoming more musicians and electronics. Frankly, the end products aren’t as satisfying as earlier, all-acoustic dates, but the players have to be commended for their audacity and refusal to stand pat.

A resident of Thessaloniki, multi-reedman Floros Floridis has been the lonely crusader for Free Improv in Greece for years. He and pianist Sakis Papadimitriou recorded the country’s first outside jazz LP in 1979. Since then he’s been involved with a variety of local and international players, ranging from Germans, bassist Peter Kowald and percussionist Günter “Baby” Sommer to American guitarist Nicky Skopelitis and Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz. Along the way he’s written music for radio, theatre and film.

Oxford, England–based saxophonist Tony Bevan is a crusader like Floridis. But with the BritImprov scene a little more welcoming than the one in Greece, the campaign he’s waged is for the acceptance as of the unwieldy bass saxophone as a flexible improvising tool, liberating it from its status as a Dixieland clown. To that end he’s turned out dazzling CDs with the likes of British guitarist Derek Bailey, Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop and American Free Jazz drummer Sunny Murray.

Adding additional instrumental voices to the arena as Bevan has done for the six tracks of Bruised and Floridis has on the 15[!] pieces on F.L.O.R.O. III, overloads the result away from unadulterated improv and towards textures, patterns and beats. Taken as a whole, the consensus is that neither Bevan, who plays tenor and bass saxophones on his CD, nor Floridis – whose instruments include soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet, wooden flute, voice, as well as it seems synthesized strings and keyboard samples – gets enough solo space.

Portentously the British saxophonist’s associates are not only bassist John Edwards and percussionist Mark Sanders, who appear on a high percentage of BritImprov dates, but also Orphy Robinson, playing vibraphone, marimbula (sic), steel drum, percussion and electronics and Ashley Wales of the SpringHeel Jack duo on soundscapes and electronics.

Third outing for the F.L.O.R.O. crew – each time with a different English translation of the abbreviation – the woodwind player here matches bassist Nektarios Karatzis and drummer Nikos Psofogiorgos from F.L.O.R.O. I, with guitarist Babis Papadopoulos from F.L.O.R.O. II. Since electric piano, celli, strings, brass and electric bass are also listed, overdubbing and other studio wizardry distinguishes this outing from the earlier ones.

That’s a shame, since the most memorable parts of this CD are those when Floridis blows unfettered. These tracks aren’t untouched Trad Jazz either. On “F1” for instance, his full-bodied moderato clarinet trills are entwined with secondary lines from a ghost clarinetist twittering in a higher register. Managing the double tracking, rather than being controlled by it, the clarinetist, bassist and drummer replicate the gentle swing of say, Buddy DeFranco with Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne, adding a walking bass line and bop cymbal snaps. Plus the piece is free enough to have a rondo as the coda.

“Basses Duo”, as the title suggests, offers up two Karantzises, one playing arco, the other pizzicato. Harmonizing at points, the double bass action also gives the reedist scope for pitch-vibrated glissandi, altissimo trills and tongue slaps. Similarly, “Celli Duo”, an impressive bass clarinet feature.

When everything is aligned properly the additions can help. “Chaos 3”, for example, links steady, unflashy drumming with stark electronic textures that take on movie monster-like sounds. Flordis’ best improvising of the disc occurs here as he spits out lightly accented and pitch-vibrated tones, twitters and overblowing.

Psofogiorgos isn’t always that diffident, however. On the aptly titled “Nice Groove” and several other tunes, pounding rhythms make common cause with meandering double bass thumps, knob-twisting guitar reverb and sprinkled accents from the Fender Rhodes. At times resembling a Hellenic version of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, only the saxist maintains the improv context with either well-modulated, bass clarinet double-tonguing, warbling alto saxophone lines or meandering soprano sax fills.

Things are even less impressive elsewhere. On one track an overlay of shifting synthesized strings seems to be a on a different plane than Flordis’ supple clarinet tone. Another, made up of squealing saxophone vamps, rattling drum bits and thumping drums sounds like rock music. A coupling of primitivist wood flute and quivering hand drums on “Bariloche 2” provides so-called World Music echoes without follow through.

World Music emulation isn’t one of the shortcomings of Bruised, but overall the forthright singularity Bevan elsewhere brings to his improvising is muted by accommodation with soundscapes and offbeat percussion textures.

On the more than 17-minute “Leviathan”, for instance, the saxophonist doesn’t truly make his presence felt until about four minutes before the conclusion and that’s with singular, trilled understated lines. Preceding this are oscillating electronic shimmers, raindrop-like click clacks from wooden objects, arco bass lines and steady steel drum patterning. Bevan’s earlier input is made up of circular growling sounds, but taken as a whole the track lists towards Spring Heel Jack’s wave form experiments.

“Taxi dance” and “Tempranillo” provide a more rewarding amalgamation of the acoustic and electronic interface. On the first Bevan – on tenor – reveals an unexpected kinship to Lester Young’s playing as he trills steady cadences over what sound like a meeting between echoing harmonica, jangling maracas and a resonating steel drum. Following a concise arco bass intro, Bevan downpedals his reed overblowing to a display of circular breathing, segmented with distinct whistles and unique harmonies.

“Tempranillo” is 11-minutes of jumbled references. At one point Robinson’s key-ringing vibraphone echoes speed along like the work of a modernist Terry Gibbs, while Mark Sanders demonstrates his skills with cross-handed percussion patterning. These clattering polyrhythms in turn spur Bevan from playing gentle swinging tones to launching tough, staccato sheets of sound where squeals and irregular pitch vibrations lead to short bitten-off notes.

Working Wales’ soundscapes into the aural picture on the title track provides more scope for everyone. Edwards creates a guitar-like a flat-picking bass line, after unveiling a chiming, arco counter pattern to Bevan’s mid-range bass sax expansions. As velvety pedal tones turn abstruse and dissonant, electronic sound patterns, including what sounds like the repetitive clanking of a metallic wind-up toy, expand. Relaxing into this backing, the saxophonist becomes more assured. Turbulent and contrapuntal, he adds altissimo cries to his solo.

Linking the need for musical innovation with the freedom to fall short in execution, Bevan and Floridis must be commended for exploring new territory with these discs. Folks familiar with their work will no doubt revel in the novelty and virtuosity displayed on some of the tracks here. But those coming to the music for the first time would be better off seeking out earlier small group outings by Bevan and/or Floridis before tackling these sessions.