Reuben Radding

Fugitive Pieces
Pine Ear Music PME 002

By Ken Waxman

Proving his versatility once again, Brooklyn-based bassist Reuben Radding heads up a quartet dedicated to providing an American response to the sort of reductionist sounds usually associated with European and Japanese improvisers.

Not that there’s anything xenophobic about the pieces, pointedly linked to Canadian author Anne Michaels book, Fugitive Pieces “which our music has nothing to do with”, he writes. More generically, the seven pieces on the CD demonstrate that the restrained ethos, which Japanese call Onkyo can be adopted some players whose first alliance is with more demonstrative sounds.

Radding, for instance has recorded with hard blowers like saxophonist Daniel Carter and Wally Shoup, while percussionist Andrew Drury has recorded contemporary improv with his own band and composer Laura Andel’s large group. Conversely tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Matt Bauder plays with both jazz-improv combos and in a reductionist setting in his Chicago home town, while trumpeter Nate Wooley holds his own in one band with powerful trombonist Steve Swell, yet has also recorded a microtonal solo CD.

Despite this varied background, on Fugitive Pieces each ensures that individual statements are subordinated to group integration. Reduced to its hub, single strokes or pops from the rhythm section are on display along with brief solitary timbres from mouthpiece or reed. Most distinctively, a darkened, low frequency interface involving vibrating double bass strings manages to add a vibrating continuum to many tracks. Acoustic, yet with the properties of electronica, this recurring undulation defines the session as much as any upfront soloing.

Fugitive Pieces’ half dozen shorter tracks serve as extended preludes and variations on “The Gradual Instant”, the CD’s final tour-de-force, which takes up nearly 32½ minutes. Along the way they experiment with various – for the most part memorable – strategies. Drury, for example, scrapes and scrubs ruffs and cymbal lacerations or exposes skittering single tone drum pummeling, while Radding reveals a buzzy, woody bass resonation. Functioning with tag-time precision, Bauer and Wooley don’t let the differences between reed and brass affect their output. Rarely fortissimo, the oscillating vibrations that are as much spittle and hiss as breaths and timbre, these polyphonic modulations evolve and dissolve.

Again the watchword is connection, as on “Vertical Time” shattering and rolling percussion allows prolonged split tone squeaks from trumpet and wet tongue slaps from the saxophone develop into heraldic, brassy unison fluttering in double counterpoint over low-pitched arco timbres from the bassist. Eventually Wooley’s tremolo interface is interlocked with Radding’s restrained bowing, resulting in a protoplasmic shifting centre.

With all strategies writ large “The Gradual Instant” defines itself from the get-go with a concentrated rumbling pitch that could conceivably come from any one or any combination of instruments. Harsh drum stick force soon underlines the undulating line, extended with reed tongue slaps and mouthpiece osculating brass textures. As triggered bass echoes combine with delicately tapped drum tops and cymbals, a single vibrating vertical reed pitch interrupted by puffs of near motionless air from the trumpet until all nodes are concentrated in such a way that the combination appears to be polyphonic parts of a single larger instrument. As these duple tones slacken, intermittent percussive scuffs, drags and pops, low-pitched sul tasto double bass strokes force the horns’ distant echoing harmonies to take on extra vibrations, underscored in the finale by determined bass stroking recurring in definite intervals. Transformed to one ego-less entity, the ululations produced by all four gradually leech away to silence.

Perfectly timed and interlocking work show that the bassist and associates can memorably operate on low flame for more than an hour without losing the improvisational thread.

In MusicWorks Issue #96