Ned Rothenberg

The Fell Clutch
Animul 105

Playful and profound at the same time, this CD by multi-reedman Ned Rothenberg’s well-paced trio confirms that the separation between cerebral improvisation and body conscious grooves is narrower than most would imagine – as long as there’s a singularity of purpose.

Usually dedicated to highly technical woodwind explorations and collaborations with the likes of saxophonist Evan Parker, or World music inferences with like-minded players such as tabla player Samir Chatterjee, Rothenberg, the New York-based clarinetist and saxophonist adopts harder beats here. Featuring drummer Tony Buck, of the Australian trance-jazz band The Necks and fretless electric bass player Stomu Takeishi, who is in trumpeter Cuong Vu’s punky jazz trio, plus slide guitarist Dave Tronzo on three tracks, there’s a rock-like sensibility present.

Luckily the excess and irrationality associated with electric instruments and fusion is absent. Instead Rothenberg and company spend time playing with the conventions of tougher, electric-oriented sounds before ascending to out-and-out Free Impov. During his appearances, Tronzo makes the case that flanged, guitar bites, wah-wah pedal tones and fuzz-tone reverb can be legitimate responses to a reed’s portamento and glissandi as long as bass guitar reverb and steady drum beats keep the sound on course. “Paint Drum” in fact, gains its character from Tronzo’s and Rothenberg’s sympathetic double counterpoint. True to form while the reed player’s timbres indicate that he could be playing a musette or a raita, Tronzo’s resonation suggests he’s finger-picking an oud or a shamisen.

On his own Rothenberg adapts such extended techniques as circular breathing to successfully interact with Takeishi’s double stops and string-patting and Buck’s rattles, snaps and foot stomps. The drummer’s most distinctive outing appear on “Brainy and Footsy” when the reedist’s woody tongue slaps and the bassist’s note thumping frame inverse pulsations, cross patterns and hard sticking. These polyrhythms layer additional beats onto the program without negating reductionist scene-setting that lurks beneath the surface.

Both the minimal and maximal impulses get full exposure on the more than 15 minute “Epic In Difference”. Resonating slaps from the bass guitar; clattering beats that could variously come from finger cymbals or tam-tams; and thin, electric shaver-like buzzing from the bass clarinet combine in such a way that hocketing overtones and echoes are exposed as well as primary nodes. Advancing from a series of chalumeau lines, by the conclusion Rothenberg’s continuous, overblowing reed buzzing is replaced by highly rhythmic tongue slaps that meld with bass guitar wallops and cymbal friction.

Commencing with over-riding rhythms and ending with unexpected improvisational ploys, in a way the band reflects the history of jazz. Less metaphorically, the CD satisfies because no member rejects any musical current when it can be meshed with others.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Moment of Reloading 2. Life in Your Years* 3. Food for A Rambling 4. No Memes, Mom* 5. Paint Drum* 6. Brainy and Footsy 7. Dream by Day 8. The Violet Sheds 9. Epic in Difference 10. Ashes+

Personnel: Ned Rothenberg (clarinet and bass clarinets and alto saxophone); Dave Tronzo (slide guitar)*; Stomu Takeishi (fretless electric bass); Joe Williamson (bass) + and Tony Buck (drums)