Pine Ear Music PEM 001

…Actually: It's Better Like This...
Not Two MW 756-2

Jazz chamber music, both INTERSECTIONS and … ACTUALLY IT’S BETTER LIKE THIS … show what can be done with three instruments – especially if one of them is part-front-line/part rhythm-section like the vibraphone.

A mixed German-American bands, 3D is the more conventional of the two combos, which may not be surprising since its lead voice, Cologne-based vibist Christopher Dell, has worked with everyone from French avant-tubaist Michel Godard to American boppers trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist, Benny Golson. The band also packs 12 low-key tunes onto its CD, compared to the nine on the other disc. Still, American bassist Chris Dahlgren plays often with multi-reedist Anthony Braxton and Berlin-based drummer Maurice de Martin is part of the band of New Thing bassist Sirone.

When it comes to bassists though, New York-based Reuben Radding’s recordings usually find him involved in no-holds-barred improv with the likes of Seattle alto saxophonist Wally Shoup or Manhattan multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter. Vibraphonist Matt Moran plays in drummer John Hollenbeck’s bands and the Slavic Soul Party, while clarinetist Oscar Noriega has been featured in bands led by reedist Assif Tsahar and pianist Sato Fujii. More outside than the other disc, INTERSECTIONS also exposes a less frenetic, but no less memorable side of the bassist’s playing and composing skills.

Featuring six Radding originals, two group improvisations and the bassist’s arrangement of Olivier Messiaen’s “Dance of Fury – which hardly sounds wrathful – most pieces move at a pace between adagio and andante and are replete with enough silences to cast the circumspect textures in bolder relief. As a matter of fact, the CD can be heard as an updating of two of jazz’s pre-eminent chamber ensembles of the 1950s and 1960s. Substitute a guitar for the clarinet and there’s the personnel as vibist Red Norvo’s trio; replace the drummer with guitarist or a pianist and clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s 3 is replicated. Obviously … ACTUALLY IT’S BETTER LIKE THIS … is closer to the Norvo trio, though the addition of a drummer links it to some of Walt Dickerson’s freebop dates of the 1970s.

Less cerebral than Dickerson, Dell’s four-mallet attack and rhythmic sense relates more to Milt Jackson and Gary Burton. But like the other CD this is no solo showcase. Five of the tunes are group impovs, the bassist wrote three, the vibist two and the drummer two. Plus Dahlgren’s shuffling arco bass lines and de Martin’s chugging drumming add as much to the tunes as the vibes.

What appears to be missing however is a certain liveliness. Each one of the 12 tunes taken at an almost listless pace is, in most cases, concluded before the improvisations really lock in. This way andante outings like the title tune and “Cybernetics” stand out. The later sounds like a mid-1950s Milt Jackson swinger, while the former is buoyed by rat-tat-tat drumming and gong resonation from De Martin. Meanwhile Dell uses mallet friction to dissect the piece into broken octaves, while Dahlgren shadows his every move. Despite being a Dell original, it sounds as if it could be on a Milt Plays Monk LP.

Most of the time, double or triple counterpoint is the norm, with Dell’s ringing keys linked to thumping bass and rumbling drums. The trio varies the formula with some looser pacing and clatter on the oddly titled “Spontaneous Combustion”, but that doesn’t appear to come to fruition. Other, longer tracks seem as if they’re going to consolidate with double-stopping from the bassist and rim-shot bounces from the drummer, but they too lose focus before the end.

Commendable for what it is … ACTUALLY IT’S BETTER LIKE THIS … may actually have been better if the three players didn’t confuse understated with underwhelming. Conversely, while INTERSECTIONS may also be recital improv, it doesn’t mean that strength and roughness has been traded for weakness and static.

For a start most of the patterned expositions rest on thick pummeling and sul ponticello slices from Radding’s bull fiddle, not unlike how Charles Mingus motivated the Norvo Three from the bottom. Furthermore when not sounding repeated motifs in well-spaced double counterpoint, each instrument reveals atypical techniques.

“Siren”, for example, has Moran’s half-speed, ringing keys making common cause with focused, accordion-like squeals from the clarinet. The slightly quicker “Jasper’s Lies” features unpressurized obbligatos from Noriega and descending note patterns from the vibist. On “Marginal Way”, the fluttering, mid-range mellow textures are sabotaged with cavity-reflecting timbres from the reed and the tam-tam-like rattling of Moran. If the Giuffre 3 referenced a Debussy sonata, then the sparse dissonance of more modern composers affect the Radding 3.

Close cooperation is the key phrase. Most noticeable is the use of broken chords on “Making Certain It Goes On” and triple counterpoint on “North”. The contrapuntal coloring of the first is such that each resonated note is followed closely by a reverberated timbre from another instrument and then the third, culminating in Noriega’s chalumeau runs and Radding’s commanding percussiveness. The later interrupts the session’s usual lope to introduce buzzing near-electronic sounds – perhaps from Moran – that quickly form themselves into fluttering waveforms. With the bassist’s low-pitched tremolo actions providing the base, the harmonies seem only nodes apart as they work their way to adjacent polyphony.

Harder musically than the other disc, Radding and company have an easier time creating a memorable chamber improv session.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Actually: 1. Gratwanderung 2. Cybernetics 3. Good’n Plenty 4. Difference 5. Lyra 6. Spontaneous Combustion 7. There’s A Virus in Room No.1 8. Requiem 9. Chuzpe 10. Actually: It’s Better Like This 11. Raphael 12. Ausklang

Personnel: Actually: Christopher Dell (vibraphone); Chris Dahlgren (bass); Maurice De Martin (drums)

Track Listing: Intersections: 1. Brush 2. Siren 3, Canal and Lafayette 4. Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue 5. Jasper’s Lies 6. North 7. Marginal Way 8. Making Certain It Goes On 9. Dance of Fury

Personnel: Intersections: Oscar Noriega (clarinet); Matt Moran (vibraphone); Reuben Radding (bass)