The Diplomats

We Are Not Obstinate Islands
Clean Feed CF061

Utilizing only the tonal colors available from one trombone, one alto saxophone and one drum set, the Diplomats still create five varied and multi-hued improvisations.

Although the result may seem slightly thin without chordal instruments, the performances are imbued with enough polyphonic variety to overcome this. For comparison envision to-the-point, skeletal forms painted by Klee and Miro, not Van Gogh’s or Monet’s abundant detail. Brassy gutbucket slurs from trombonist Steve Swell, tart split tones from saxophonist Rob Brown plus drum and cymbal resonation from Harris Eisenstadt supply all the needed tinctures.

Manhattan-based veterans of their own combos and larger ensembles let by bassist William Parker, the hornmen often utilize intense vibrato and double tonguing to express hide-and-seek counterpoint, while Toronto-born Eisenstadt, who first collaborated with California improvisers and recently moved east, prods and pushes the others with woody rim shots, understated press rolls and bass drum pressure. At points the parameters are reduced even further when one or another player lays out for a time. Yet the pan-tonal sound field isn’t disrupted.

Acerbic and focused, the alto saxophonist’s piercing squeals mix with Swell’s braying textures and the drummer’s ruffs and flams to turn the concluding “Buoyed In Great Days” into a representative showcase. Stretching the tune’s fabric without tearing it, the resonating finale references both the initial note clusters and staccato variations on the theme. Throughout the CD, the trio provides ample aural coloration without excess.

— Ken Waxman

For Whole Note Vol. 12 #2