Silkheart SHCD 155

More a series of concertos for four instrumentalists than a relationship or arrangement, CONFIGURATION, recorded live in New York late last year, is a confirmation of the power of three veteran, so-called avant-garde players and the introduction of a talented tyro.

Still vibrant, despite the desires of neo-cons to banish them from jazz history, violinist Billy Bang, 57, bassist Sirone, 64, and saxophonist Charles Gayle 65, are as inventive and technically adroit as they were when they first began making noise –sometimes literally – in the 1960s and 1970s. New kid on the block – who holds his own here – is New Jersey-based drummer Tyshawn Sorey, 22. Although not arranged in the bebop sense, the six pieces on this CD, recorded downstairs at CBGBs, offer a lot more than a customary string of round robin solos. Singularly, or in duos, the four not only exhibit instrumental prowess but link disparate sections without ever losing the compositional thread.

Especially noteworthy are the tunes written by Sirone, still closely identified with the Revolutionary Ensemble. Someone like Charles Mingus or Thelonious Monk, who prefers to constantly discover new tints in his compositional colors, two of his three were also recorded 18 months previously in his adopted hometown by the Berlin resident’s own quartet. His last piece – the title tune – is a typically good-humored, stop-and-go set ending blues with funky solos all around. But “We are not alone, but we are few” and “I Remember Albert” are more profound statements.

Dramatic and atmospheric, they, like most of the other tracks here, feature Gayle on alto sax instead of his customary tenor. Producing undulating timbres on top of quasi-ceremonial drum beats and bowed pedal point from the composer, Gayle’s textures get wider, louder, higher-pitched and more abstract as the piece unrolls. On his side Bang’s lines surge to join in double counterpoint with Sirone’s, at and points it appears as if each is sounding the same note – basso in the bassist’s case and treble in the violinist’s. As Gayle twists and turns out pitch vibrations, Sorey first accompanies him with funeral taps, then the oscillation of a drum stick scraped across the ride cymbal, and finally bass drum whaps and the odd snare flam. Before the morose theme is reprised, the saxman has worked himself into a frenzy of double tonguing.

Appropriately returning to tenor saxophone for “I Remember Albert”, Gayle produces quivering and gritty Albert Ayler-sounding output before working deeper into his body tube with a wide vibrato, irregular pitch and harsh overtones. Sorey exposes his inner Sunny Murray with simple, door-knocking beats as Sirone’s wide harmonic intervals fill up the few spaces left empty. Virtually channeling Ayler, Gayle’s buzzy, flutter tonguing is transformed to unmodified glossolalia. Wavering, buzzing and purring, his quick overblowing brings forth answering bumps and thumps from the bassist and jangled snares and rim tops from the drummer. Diverging from the reedist’s line, Bang’s pizzicato runs – triple and quadruple stopped – ring out with tremolo multiphonics. Following a splashy cymbal touch, the last section of the piece downshifts to a moderato, strumming bass solo, backed by carefully measured flams from the drummer, until the head is recapped for a final time.

The head-solo-head construction on “…Albert” isn’t recapitulated elsewhere, with most of the other compositions relying on audacious unaccompanied sections from each player. This is most elaborately expressed on Bang’s almost 16-minute “Jupiter’s Future”. At one point for instance, the composer produces spiccato harmonies at the top of the violin’s range, rippling, swirling and extending vibrating nodes to such an extent that it sounds like he’s shredding his strings, causing him to shout in elation or frustration. Buzzy alto saxophone lines from Gayle are enlivened by doits, squeaks, extreme multiphonics or pitch vibrations, with these extended techniques exhibited a cappella, or in duet with screechy fiddle or low-pitched bass wing. Sorey’s extravagant solo outing encompasses cymbal shuffles, nerve beats and tattoo on snares and toms until his rumbled cross pulses and accent turn to blunt triplets and rolls.

Whether you’re a longtime follower of any of the old hands or want to discover a new drummer, this CONFIGURATION is a CD worth investigating.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Jupiter’s Future 2. Freedom Flexibility 3. We Are Not Alone, But We Are Few 4. I Remember Albert 5. Notre Dame de la Garde 6. Configuration

Personnel: Charles Gayle (alto and tenor saxophones); Billy Bang (violin); Sirone (bass); Tyshawn Sorey (drums)