Mokuto

Message for the Errand Boy
Ninth World NW033

Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra
New Magical Kingdom
Clean Feed CF052

Lou Grassi’s Po Band
Infinite Potential
CIMP #344

Lou Grassi Quartet
Avanti Galoppi
CIMP #313

Empathy is a common formula for successful collaborations, with the ectoplasmic nature of improvised music particularly suited for such sympathetic interaction. You can hear this happening most of the time on these sessions, which call on the talents of a shifting cast of characters – both veterans and tyros.

Interconnections unite them all as well. For instance, experienced New York-based drummer Lou Grassi’s Avanti Galoppi is a quartet date, sparked by trumpeter and flugelhornist Herb Robertson, whose European contacts find him as part of an otherwise all-Danish quartet on Errand Boy. Meanwhile, a new version of Grassi’s PO band is featured on Infinite Potential. Now constituted as a quintet, except for young bassist Adam Lane, the other players involved have years of interconnected experience.

Lane, whose bi-coastal associations have included gigs with saxophonist Vinny Golia (in California) and drummer Barry Altschul (in New York), leads his own Full Throttle Orchestra (FTO) on New Magical Kingdom. Despite its grandiloquent name the FTO is really a sextet, with two saxophonists alternating on different tracks. Existing in that configuration for more than five years, most band members are West Coasters, apart from for Lane, who lives in Brooklyn.

One Kingdom comer who makes the most noise – in a good way – is baritone saxophonist Lynn Johnston. Someone who has been featured in Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet, he usually eschews the swollen horn’s bottom end for multiphonic and altissimo attacks which raise the level of the others’ responses.

Additionally, unlike the PO band CD, which consists of five group improvisations, all nine FTO tracks are Lane’s compositions. Paramountly group music, the session’s success is predicated on band members’ empathic understanding of the bassist’s arrangements.

Obviously influenced by the small-big-band concept that Charles Mingus developed for combos of a similar size, Lane’s arrangements inflate the band members’ contributions to orchestral dimensions even on numbers such as “In the Center of the Earth, Looking for Mike”, which is only played by a quintet. On this tune, plunger-style trumpeting from Darren Johnston and moderato sax asides from Aaron Bennett combine into contrapuntal riffs to contrast with John Finkbeiner’s guitar licks. Bubbling lip expansions from Johnston and resonations from Finkbeiner then introduce a comprehensive solo from Lane that moves from low-pitched double stopping to unaccompanied stop time, and which is seconded by martial drum beats from percussionist Vijay Anderson.

Encompassing skronk and calypso intimations on certain tracks, Energy Music squeals and traditional call-and-response patterns, the sextet sounds most comfortable on tunes such as “Serenity” and “Without Being”, which offer solo space for both saxophonists Bennett and Jeff Chan. Constructed in broken octaves, the former includes poly-tonal horn lines that frame rolls and flams from the drummer. These diaphragm-driven multiphonics gradually lengthen into a choir of altissimo exhortations, characterized by brassy vibrations that involve the body tube and goose neck as well as the reeds.

Lengthy and well-arranged, “Without Being” is shaped by an ornamental upsurge of instrumental timbres sounded half-steps apart. Lane advances a steady stopping movement, Finkbeiner droning guitar licks, and the horns a squeaky crescendo of vamps. While the saxophonists toss lines from one to another, Bennett sticks to balladic flutter-tonguing and Chan irregular vibrations. Sinking to quieter background riffs, the three horns then back the bassist as his highly vibrated pizzicato lines expose new possibilities within the structure. The finale contrasts massed pastel horn riffs with continuous wah-wah pedal action from the guitarist. It’s as if Action Painting blots were tossed into the middle of a bucolic Impressionistic painting.

Fully in the Abstract painting mode, on the other hand, is the PoBand, which, besides Grassi and Lane, includes clarinetist Perry Robinson, who has been playing “outside” since the early 1960s; Robertson on trumpet, pocket trumpet and flugelhorn; and bass trombonist David Taylor. Building on extended instant compositions, the quintet is most memorable at the top of the program – “issued in the order in which they were played” – as the booklet states.

More than 17 minutes long, “Infinite Potential”, the initial track, exposes most of the combo’s strategies. Accelerating from barely audible brush shuffles and triangle strokes from the drummer, swirling trills from the reedist and chromatic tones from the brass, the interchange soon fills every available aural space. After the other horns weave connective timbres that include extended trills from the clarinetist and studied, lumbering puffs from the trombonist, Robertson unleashes a lashing go-for-broke solo filled with a sudden uptick of triplet tones.

“Every Moment is Another Now”, purports to be avant-Dixieland with whistling clarinet trills and marching-band pedal point from the bass trombone. But Grassi’s use of ratcheting beats and hollow wood block thwacks, plus Lane subtly altering the rhythmic feel makes the tune more sophisticated than that. Antiphonal coloration from the horns eventually evolves into staccato bowing from the bassist, and brassy, slurry triple tonguing from the brassmen. Joining with Robinson’s reed work, they complete the final section with varied, but complementary textures.

Sluicing, basement tones from Taylor, half-valve effects from Robertson, pin-pointed rim shots from Grassi and shrill toy whistling from Robinson – as well as traditional vamping horn lines and polyphonic brays – are what helps to make this session memorable. In fact, CIMP’s under-recording only detracts at points from Grassi’s muted drum exploration.

The label’s more common ear-straining situation is more pronounced on Avant Galoppi, where on one track the annotator claims that “Herb forces the listener to focus on his purposely understated muted pocket trumpet dynamic”. However such flirtations with inaudibility shouldn’t turn people away from a superior example of Free Jazz quartet music.

If only the same could be said for Message for the Errand Boy. With Robertson –

who has worked with everyone from British bassist Barry Guy to Dutch pianist Michiel Braam – are electric bassist Peter Friis Nielsen and percussionist Peter Ole Jorgensen who often partner German trombonist Johannes Bauer and saxophonist Peter Brötzmann; and alto, tenor and soprano saxophonist Lotte Anker. With that crew on board, you would expect the results to be notable. Instead the instant compositions seem to meander past the point of no return.

Many of these weaknesses come to a head with “Captain Voms Great Adventure”. On the surrounding pieces Friis Nielsen shows off his talents that expose ringing guitar-like clatter or thick ostinato bass line with distinctive skills; Robertson outputs buzzy trumpet trills and grace notes; plus there’s consistently strong work from the saxophonist and drummer. But all four seem to run aground on the “Captain Voms…”. Maybe written material or more cohesive heads would have been preferable.

As it is, the 26-minutes-plus piece ends up appearing nearly endless, although individual craftsmanship does stand out. Anker’s steady obbligato evolves at one point to near Klezmer-like lines on soprano; Robertson displays burnished triplets and plunger tones; bell and cymbal punctuation stand out from Jorgensen’s accompaniment; and the bassist displays some liquid string runs.

On the downside, the noodling tones and accelerates contrapuntal lines are almost overpowering, with a climax that seems to arrive a good three minutes before the conclusion, encompassing a crescendo of showy bass thumb pops, squawks and foghorn blows from the sax and flams and ruffs from the drummer.

More than a year earlier, back in the U.S., on Avanti, Robertson participated in a more productive undertaking, partnered by Grassi, alto saxophonist Rob Brown, who often plays in bassist William Parker’s bands, and bassist Ken Filiano, who has worked with everyone from Golia to violinist Jason Kao Hwang.

To fit the general early Ornette Coleman-vibe of the session, Robertson adopts a Don Cherry-Donald Ayler persona, which serves him well throughout. Take Filiano’s “Dancing Shadows”, for instance. Besides the Coleman-like title, the composition epitomizes call-and-response Free Jazz. Operating on top of a double-trucking bass line from Filiano, Brown’s expansive high-pitch vibrato appears in double counterpoint with the trumpeter’s slurry triplets. Additionally, the bassist’s steady pulse is amplified with cross-handed ruffs and flams from Grassi. Eventually the tune exposes a checkerboard of brightly colored and highly rhythmic textures.

Also notable is the bassist’s “Willie B”, which has more than a glancing acquaintance with Coleman’s “Focus on Sanity”. Featuring discontinuous layering of different melodies, the composer’s power strumming gives full rein to the trumpeter’s parlando slurs and Browns’ extended glottal punctuation.

Robertson himself contributes “Squatting Women”, another first class, multi-sectional composition. Ending with a crescendo of horns, each of its variations maintains momentum. Among them are a section of grace-note elaborations from Robertson that lead to a plunger examinations of the theme, stroking sul tasto lines from Filiano, and rattles and flaps from the drummer. The calm middle section languidly knits tremolo notes from both horns and martial beats from Grassi.

Although another of the CD’s drawbacks is the sequencing, which features two similar-sounding ballads in the first and second spots, overall most pieces fall into place with minimum friction or tension.

Connections appear to carry the day on most of these sessions, with only one an unexpected also-ran from otherwise impressive players.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: Magical: 1. In the Center of the Earth, Looking for Mike 2. Nutria One* 3. Without Being+ 4. Avenue X* 5. Sienna+ 6. Objects+ 7. The Genius of El Segundo* 8. Serenity+ 9. Schnube+

Personnel: Magical: Darren Johnston (trumpet); Aaron Bennett (tenor and soprano saxophones); Jeff Chan (tenor saxophone);+ Lynn Johnston (baritone saxophone);* John Finkbeiner (guitar); Adam Lane (bass) and Vijay Anderson (drums)

Track Listing: Avant: 1. Underground Elevation 2. Avant Galoppi 3. Dancing Shadows 4. Lake George 5. Ballad of 9/11 6. Squatting Women 7. Willie B

Personnel: Avant: Herb Robertson (trumpet, pocket trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn); Rob Brown (alto saxophone); Ken Filiano (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Message: 1. Freebooting in Heavy Sea 2. God Bless Mokuto

and all Who Sail with It 3. Message for the Errand Boy 4. Captain Voms Great Adventure 5. Waiting for the Wind Lost in the Coral Sea

Personnel: Message: Herb Robertson (trumpet, slide trumpet and cornet); Lotte Anker (alto, tenor and soprano saxophones); Peter Friis Nielsen (electric bass) and Peter Ole Jorgensen (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Infinite: 1. Infinite Potential 2. Every Moment is Another Now 3. Something From Nothing 4. Laugh Track 5. Phantasmagoria

Personnel: Infinite: Herb Robertson (trumpet, pocket trumpet and flugelhorn); David Taylor (bass trombone); Perry Robinson (clarinet and ocharina); Adam Lane (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums and percussion)