Steve Swell’s Slammin’ The Infinite

Remember Now
Not Two Records MW 772-2

Profound and proficient practitioners of adroit improvisation, the Slammin’ The Infinite band is just one of the many configurations in which the members of this dexterous foursome are involved.

But what a quartet it is.

Dedicated – at least on this CD – to performing trombonist Steve Swell’s compositions, the band’s instrumentation and creative effervescence put a 21st Century spin on a combo sound first perfected in the mid-1960s by the New York Art Quartet (NYAQ), which had a similar line-up.

A close associate, and in many ways the heir of the NYAQ’s Roswell Rudd, Swell has as wide-ranging experience and technique as the older trombonist, but exhibits more compositional heft. Sabir Mateen, who plays alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and alto clarinet here, has at least as much adaptable skills as the NYAQ’s John Tchicai – and is likely proficient on more reeds. Both men are close associates of bassist William Parker among many other of their front-liners gigs.

No Milford Graves, drummer Klaus Kugel substitutes the NYAQ’s most famous percussionist’s domineering mysticism for an efficient command of the kit, using flams, press rolls, cymbal smacks and snare punctuation to advance the eight tunes without calling undue attention to himself. Prone to sul ponticello squeaks as well as double-stopping color and traditional walking, bassist Matthew Hayner emphasizes the improv side of his talents which are often masked in the No Neck Blues Band, his best-known affiliation.

Overall, throughout the disc, Swell’s solos are bracing. His technical prowess encompasses such jaw-clenchers as wide-bore fortissimo slurs, rubato slide manipulation and pedal-point growls. The use of chromatic tonguing in his solo often expands to include additional grace notes as well. Logical, the notable end product is neither logorrheic nor logaoedic.

Often working in double counterpoint during the course of the compositions, Mateen brings a different conception to each of his horns. Most New Thing-oriented on alto saxophone, he favors triple-tonguing and overblowing, screeches and elongated diaphram vibrato. On tenor, powerful and passionate smears and cries often adumbrate accelerated rumbles and focused pops from Kugel, not to mention concentrated passionate low-pitched outings from Swell. The reedist’s playing is most unique when manipulating the clarinet family however. Compressing squeaky coloratura lines into ululating breaths and tongue-stopping, his lines are sometimes call for seconding by slinky adagio beats and thick col legno drones from Hayner.

Kugel’s bell-rattling, cymbal smacks and contrapuntal tapping help maintain and extend the CD’s modernism. At the same time, a glance at track two, “MB-1”, honoring pioneering New Thing alto saxophonist Marion Brown, a label mate an associate of the NYJQ, shows that the band members are cognizant of jazz history as well.

Taken as a whole, Remember Now can easily – and equally – be enjoyed by those with an appreciation of the improvisational advances over the past 40 years as well as those who admire the passion and commitment of earlier Free Jazzers.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Antlers 2. MB-1 (for Marion Brown) 3. Patient Explorer 4. Grow Your Own 5. We Interrupt This Channel 6. Remember Now 7. Different Degrees 8. Stride Right

Personnel: Steve Swell (trombone); Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and alto clarinet); Matthew Hayner (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums)