February 15, 2007
Gjerstad, Stephens, Hession
Live at The Termite Club
Loose Torque LT 009
Born in Brooklyn
Barking Hoop BKH-010
Two years, two months and two continents separate these two live sessions, though the uniformly high quality of the two trio efforts confirms that such improvisations are timeless especially when they come from accomplished musicians such as these.
To continue the numeral associations, two of the players on two of the discs are the same: Norwegian reedist Frode Gjerstad and British bassist Nick Stephens, who have played together in different configurations for more than two decades. Gjerstad, who is a father figure to younger Norwegian improvisers like drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and Stephens who often worked with the late British drummer John Stevens another Gjerstad associate recently formed Instinctual Eye with New Jersey-based percussionist Kevin Norton.
Known for his decade-long work in Anthony Braxtons bands, Nortons playing isnt limited to any particular genre. Neither is British drummer Paul Hession, who joined Gjerstad and Stephens at the Termite Club two years previously. The Leeds-based drummer has a long-time affiliation with multi-reedist Mick Beck and has also worked with a variety of American, United Kingdom and Continental improvisers.
Both CDs were recorded live Born in Brooklyn comes from a session at Barbès club and the downside of these circumstances appears on both discs. Overlong improvisations can be mesmerizing in person with the musicians present, but drag when transferred to vinyl and laser. Thus Brooklyns 42 minute plus Fitzcarraldos Beautiful Nonsequitur is less memorable than the literally half its length title tune that follows it, while Live at The Termite Clubs more-than-37 minute Brewers Tap drags in its final section.
On Termites three selections, Hessions role is more background than Nortons on the other CD. He dots the Is and crosses the Ts left dangling from Gjerstads emotional and assertive lines on both clarinet and saxophone. On alto saxophone, the Norwegians smears and cries join tongue-stopping and flutter tonguing to create a program that powerfully vibrate and sluice up and down the scale.
Gjerstad also introduces spetrofluctuation, widely corrosive note spearing and repetitive body tube honks, with all the movements carefully monitored by Hessions drum breaks and Stephens thick, double-stopping patterning and rumbling. Meeting at the Adelphi eschews rhythmic atonality as it winds up, as reed squeaks are backed by descending line from the bassist and snare rattles from the drummer.
The dynamism on Brewers Tap arrives mid-way through the track, when by alternating phrases on clarinet and saxophone, Gjerstad appears to be duetting with himself on altissimo-pitched saxophone and low-toned clarinet. Staccato saxophone reverb brings forth sympathetic coloration from the bassist, while high-pitched arpeggios are backed by string taps and plucks. Earlier the clarinets harsh timbre seems to be filtered through a reed sieve, as the others contribute reductionist particles of flams, ruffs and bounces in Hessions case, and pitch-sliding textures that stretch infinitesimally from Stephens strings.
Despite the patchy sections which encumber it, the tune gains a second wind just before its conclusion. Here the drummers slides, friction and martial sticking buoy Gjerstads exploratory whirls and whorls into clusters of excitement.
Similar long-form immoderation weakens parts of Fitzcarraldos Beautiful Nonsequitur on the other CD. Luckily Nortons double-mallet versatility on vibes, measured triangle tolling and his shakes and pops on drum tops add defining rhythmic colors. Full-throttled, bull-fiddle swells plus repeated guitar-like frails contribute as well.
Yet no matter how individually impressive Gjerstads spasms of squeaky coloratura clarinet timbres peeps or twisty-turny expansion of wide-ranging trills and slurs are, their sheer volume is wearying at points. Triple counterpoint seems the most appropriate strategy, as thin, warbling clarinet whistles, cymbal pops and scrapes plus the basss wavering bowed harmonics reach rapprochement.
Born in Brooklyn confirms this strategy with the interaction resembling the rapport of both a so-called classical chamber trio and a chamber jazz aggregation. Chalumeau clarinet voicing, slap bass power and ringing vibraharp thwacks recast the three as a hip Benny Goodman-style trio; extended split tones, resonating cymbals and string vamps display a more sophisticated, contemporary intertwining.
Climax arrives with interlocking call-and response section that includes various textures layered on top of one another. Stephens moves from moderato cross patterns to sul ponticello high notes, Norton cymbal pops and bounces his toms, while Gjerstads squeals and smears speed up to staccatissimo. Gradually, the granular split tones and pressured, false-register vibrations descend and are seconded by repeated growls and string sawing from the bassist.
High-quality and memorable improv from two trios, marred only minimally by maximized tracks lengths.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Live: 1. Meeting at the Adelphi 2. The L Shaped Room 3. Brewers Tap
Personnel: Live: Frode Gjerstad (clarinet and alto saxophone); Nick Stephens (bass) and Paul Hession (drums)
Track Listing: Born: 1. Fitzcarraldos Beautiful Nonsequitur 2. Born in Brooklyn
Personnel: Born: Frode Gjerstad (clarinet and alto saxophone); Nick Stephens (bass) and Kevin Norton (vibraphone, drums and percussion)