Meanwhile, back in Sheffield
Discus 21CD

The Ins and Outs
Emanem 4116

Free Improv merry-go-rounds, these CDs feature veteran players from the United Kingdom extending themselves in previously unrecorded trio formations.

Oversight and commitments to other groups are why, after a decade of existence, the fine Free Base trio debuts on record with THE INS AND OUTS. Conversely, MEANWHILE, BACK IN SHEFFIELD captures on disc a now-uncommon occurrence: the first live gig in a decade by that British city’s best-known native improviser: guitarist Derek Bailey, now a Barcelona-resident. He’s joined by local Mick Beck on tenor saxophone, whistles and bassoon, and drummer Paul Hession from Leeds. Both men have played individually with Bailey, but never recorded with him in this formation.

Each player on the other CD has a similar intertwined BritImprov history. After a stint in jazz-rock drummer Steve Noble was involved in a few of Bailey’s Company Weeks and more recently played in bassist Simon Fell’s quintet. Fell, Hession and Free Base’s alto and baritone saxophonist Alan Wilkinson form another longstanding Free Jazz trio. Before that, the ferocious reed-shredder was in Art Bart & Fargo with Hession and a member of Feetpacket with Beck.

Mario Mattos, who plays bass and electronics in Free Base, is as experienced a player on THE INS AND OUTS as Bailey is on the other date. The Brazilian-born bassist has worked with every other musician on both dates in some context or another, while Mattos’ other associations have ranges from pianist Chris Burn’s Ensemble to sessions with saxophonist George Haslam.

Despite this near incestuous relationship between the trio members, the final CDs are anything but interchangeable. Again, the divergence arises from the veteran members. Adding his solid bass work to the coarse textures spewed from Wilkinson’s reeds and the rumble and punch of Noble’s percussion, Mattos’ presence means that Free Base’s CD leans towards take-no-prisoners Energy Music. With eight long pieces allowed to germinate during this 72-minute studio session each player aptly defines his territory.

Recorded live – but with audience applause excised – the barely 53 minute MEANWHILE, BACK IN SHEFFIELD reproduces the concert exactly as it evolved. Bailey’s hyper-distinctive guitar phrasing is such that while Beck sometimes screams and squeals through both horns, and Hession unleashes fierce cross-handed textures, the fretman guides the improvisations. Oh course, whether this happens through tacit musical agreement, the force of Bailey’s personality or the others’ deference to an elder is open to interpretation.

Showpiece track is “After The Red Deer”, the nearly-33-minute opening salvo. Beginning with bird-whistle chirps from Beck and understates flams from Hession, it gains its shape from Bailey’s distinctive strums and string swipes. Soon the saxophonist’s sparrow peeps swell to crow-like caws as he tops off the body tube with glottal punctuation and tongue-fluttering.

With the drummer limiting himself to nerve beats and wooden concussions, the guitarist’s irregular patterns, scraping pulsation and quaking reverb match Beck’s spacious tone expelling, finally diminishing to trilling obbligatos from the reedist and claw-hammer picking from the guitarist. Asserting himself, Bailey chromatically works his way across his strings and frets, goading Hession to follow suit with snare press rolls, cymbal slaps and drumstick-across-the-metal squeaks.

Beck’s response in the improvisation’s penultimate minutes is to bring out his bassoon, showcasing basso quivers, and side-slipping sonority. Diminishing his own contribution to a dewy mist of spiky notes, the guitarist presages the ending with highly rhythmic chording.

Both other, shorter instant compositions feature more of the same, with Bailey and Hession sticking to spanked and tapped single note textures. Meanwhile Beck consolidates his sound, at one point spraying a wailing melody with one horn as he simultaneously peeps penny-whistle decoration. As a maximalist, his solos often consumes the entire sonic space.

You might say the same about Wilkinson’s harsh blowing on the other CD.

For instance the almost 13½-minutes of “Absolute Xero” [sic], finds him spewing out a series of irregular, nearly reed-melting pitch variations and multiphonic variations. As Noble pounds his drum tops and exercises the rivets on his pang cymbal, Mattos quickens his pace from slurred fingering to spiccato tones, eventually resorting to a combination of triple stops and string riffs. As animalistic cries fly from Wilkinson’s horn, Noble proactively bangs his drum stick together as if they were castanets and smacks single tones from the cymbals and the wooden parts of his kit. Appearing to be burrowing ferret-like within the kit, this resolution coupled with the bassist stretching and scratching his lines sul tasto serves as the climax, with a simple reed timbre as the coda.

Tunes such as “I Wak [sic] On (for John Lester)” and “Sortie” – unsurprisingly the final number – show off the Free Jazz-oriented disparity between Free Base’s conception and Bailey, Beck and Hession’s model. The former begins with a single boppish whack from Noble and swamping bass runs from Mattos, which sets up distinctive sonorous coloring from Wilkinson’s baritone. Initially favoring a legato approach to the larger horn, eventually Wilkinson turns to reed-biting in false registers and bell-muting stops. Measured panting grunts that seem to emanate from his horn’s bow rather than the mouthpiece, allows him to he produce two different reed textures and a satisfactory climax.

Rubato low-pitched horn obbligatos that despite extended timbres almost sound Mainstream characterize “Sortie”. Could the saxman have internalized Gerry Mulligan’s smoothness? Behind him Noble pops his toms and vibrates cymbal tops as Mattos quietly plucks his base. Then as the tonal centre shifts, the reed lines shatter, side-slip and smear. Sul ponticello sweeps and drum beats delivered with strength and passion are the responses of the other two. Conclusive penny whistle-like shrills from the saxophonist, a rare dip into electronic pulses from the bassist, and bravura floor tom ruffs and constant cymbal pounding combine for a concluding crescendo.

Many improvisers from the United Kingdom are interconnected through similar playing experiences. Yet these CDs prove that when it comes to free sounds different groups easily create textures as distinctive as the country’s topography.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Meanwhile: 1. After the Red Deer 2. Raining 3.Buckets

Personnel: Meanwhile: Mick Beck (tenor saxophone, bassoon and whistles); Derek Bailey (guitar); Paul Hession (drums)

Track Listing: Ins: 1. Trepid (09.14) 2. Sea Frett (05.5 3. Absolute Xero 4. Skzypce 5. Kissing the Shuttle 6. Soup Song 7. I Wak On (for John Lester) 8.Sortie

Personnel: Ins: Alan Wilkinson (alto and baritone saxophones); Mario Mattos (bass and electronics); Steve Noble (percussion)