World Sonic
Hi 4 Head Records HFHCD004

No Work Today (Nine for Steve Lacy)
Drimala DR 05-347-02

Definitely the sign that a concept has passed from novelty to commonplace is when practiced veterans try out their version of it. So it is with solo saxophone recitals. Initially the exclusive preserve of alto saxophonist Anthony Braxton, then made customary by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, and Evan Parker on tenor and soprano, today it appears that every young reedist has a solo sax CD.

Following the lead of another visionary – Britain’s John Butcher – many of the solo CDs put out by these European and North American tyros move beyond melody and tonality to try to reach pure vibrational textures.

Britain’s Trevor Watts and Joe Giardullo from New York state aren’t that radical – at least as far as these two solo sessions are concerned. Both are also considerably older than those solo sax trainees. Soprano saxophonist Giardullo, who also plays flute, alto saxophone and bass clarinet, has been at it since the 1970s. He has partnered with fellow experimenters such as multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, composer/accordionist Pauline Oliveros, and Lacy to whom this session is dedicated.

One of the founding fathers of BritImprov, along with drummer John Stevens in the mid-1960s, alto saxophonist Watts has been involved in fusion, World-jazz and Free Music since then with groups like Amalgam, and the Moire Music Drum Orchestra. Incredibly, WORLD SONIC is his first solo recording, and he only waited until he was 65 to do it.

Radical in context for Watts, and an impressive display of his command of the saxophone language, this CD, unlike the advances of Butcher and other improvisers, is resolutely wedded to jazz, and ensures that the saxophone still sounds like a saxophone. Similarly, although he showcases multiphonics and circular breathing, NO WORK TODAY is also resolutely tonal, precisely because Giardullo is honoring Lacy (1934-2004) and by extension Lacy’s major influences, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington.

Cramming 18 tunes into less than 57 minutes, Watts unfortunately doesn’t give many of them enough time to organically evolve. Often a track is concerned with a single idea – say modal coloring with a descending slur, or curving continuous staccato lines with circular breathing – which once stated ends the improv.

More impressive are those tracks where the concept is given enough room in which to develop – as well as those in which he comes up with a completely unique output. For example, there’s “Passionato’, which despite its Italianesque name sounds as if Watts is double tonguing a crying Middle-Eastern reed, as well as introducing some secondary buzzing to his output.

“The Chase”, on the other hand, is made up of speedy split tones that suggest a bagpipe’s chanter, though the chase may refer to the fact that the lines are overblown faster and faster before the extended climax. “Honing” is built on higher-pitched and air-raid siren-like repetition, with secondary vibrations complementing the primary ones and with horn modulations as much a part of the creation as the individual notes. Then there’s “Solone”, which appears to have been recorded with a handkerchief shoved into Watts’ saxophone bell to muffle the arpeggios. Still, every tone has an equivalent sideband echo, reflecting the fluttering wave form sensed but not heard.

Longest and most illustrative of the pieces is the nearly six-minute “Rounder”. Essentially a blues with emphasized timbres and a bit of altissimo, it’s what would happen if a saxophonist enamored of “Harlem Nocturne” and the funky Gene Ammons version of “Angel Eyes” recorded solo. Glottal punctuation, triple-tonguing and the constant movement of forced air figure into this, but don’t disguise its mainstream origins.

Unlike much of his other work, Giardullo is far from abstract on his CD as well. Not only does he regenerate compositions Lacy performed, but during other improvisations quotes Monk’s “Mysterioso” and others of the pianist’s oeuvre. Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood”, plus more of Ducal repertoire, also gets an airing when the saxophonist plays tunes that relate to these Lacy forbearers. The bouncy title composition itself, with its sprays of vibrated legato tones plus circular chirping and squealing in altissimo registers is a contrafact of Monk’s “Work” – a Lacy favorite.

“Not Good” – which is categorically not a description of this CD – balances jackknife split tones on top of a melodic centre, reharmonizing Ellington’s “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” to comment on the linkage between Lacy and the Ellington band’s Johnny Hodges, one of the few pre-Lacy soprano saxophonists.

While the saxman spews out multiphonics and circular breathing on a couple of tracks, as with WORLD SONIC the hub of this homage is tonality. On Lacy’s own “Prospectus”, built on every note in the C major scale, for instance, Giardullo invents new melodies and textures as he plays. Including whorls of exquisitely shaped trills and rhythmic bites, its nocturne-like qualities are enlivened with nose-pinched timbres and sliding tones.

A fitting memorial to a departed hero and proof that older reedists can still surprise, both CDs warrant investigation by those fascinated by solo saxophone playing.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sonic: 1. Solarsonic 2. Weejah Song 3. The Chase 4. Soft Call 5. How It Goes 6 Rounder 7 Slip Jive 8. Passionato 9 Honing 10 Shadows 11 Sliding Reel 12 This Morning! 13. Duplette 14. Head Tones 15. Stretching 16. Jakarata 17. Solone 18. Descension

Personnel: Sonic: Trevor Watts (alto saxophone)

Track Listing: Work: 1. No Work Today 2. Prospectus 3. Which Way 4. Not Good 5. Mr. Ioso’s Walk 6. Sentiments 7. The Touch 8. Hurtles 9. Dotty

Personnel: Work: Joe Giardullo (soprano saxophone)