Matt Lavelle Trio

Spiritual Power
Silkheart SHCD156

Eye Contact
War Rug
KMB Jazz KMB-006

Singular vision often results in a more assured creation than the product of cooperative democracy. At least that’s the conclusion after hearing these trio CDs featuring New York-based multi-instrumentalist Matt Lavelle.

Lavelle, whose feisty bass clarinet, trumpet and flugelhorn work has been a highlight of bassist William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and various combos, is the leader and sole composer on Spiritual Power, seconded by bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Mike T.A. Thompson. On the other hand, War Rug with the exact same instrumentation is a collective where Lavelle is joined by bassist Matt Hayner and percussionist Ryan Sawyer. Although the sounds on the 10 group improvisations which make up the later disc are notable, the specific circumstances of Spiritual Power amalgamate into a CD of the first rank.

Perhaps it’s because between them, Thompson and Greene have contributed color to the sessions of other sound-masters such as Parker, saxophonist Charles Gayle and trumpeter Dennis González. Doing that, they’ve developed sound stratagems far beyond regular rhythm section ruses. Additionally, Lavelle uses his split-second repelling from one horn to another to add beyond the ordinary sonic tinctures as the drummer rumbles, ruffs and pops and the bassist features guitar-like picked arpeggios and expansive arco swats.

Various stratagems arise to highlight Lavelle’s quick-change antics. On one track he blows hand-vibrated, valve-patting triplets with a Hispanic tinge on top of polyphonic bow sweeps from Greene; on another he crates evocative, mellow rolling note-placement with his flugelhorn as the drummer press rolls and bangs. More distinctively on “Stars Like Fleas”, with Thompson’s cymbal accents and drum top bounces taking a contrapuntal path and Greene’s bent-string slap resonation holding the beat; Lavelle vibrates the bass clarinet from laughing and riffing chalumeau, up to coloratura tongue stops and flutters accelerating to Aylerian – not Dolphyian – unbridled glossolalia. Gentling spetrofluctuation and exploding triple tonguing are put to good use from both instrument families elsewhere are triple-tongued diminuendo finales.

Spiritual rather than carnal, “I Will Have Love in my Life” is the almost 13½-minute CD centerpiece that evolves in distinct sections. Featuring a delicate, yet insistent chromatic theme from Lavelle’s flugel, his mid-range tremolo tonguing and translucent note-bending is given added context by Thompson’s rattling cymbals and low-pulsed flams. When Greene begins thumping slap bass twangs, the brass man’s flighty note clusters and broken interludes turn altissimo. The following and penultimate variation is a close cousin to some European dance rhythm, like the polka, but the bassist’s rubato thumping allows Lavelle the freedom to fracture his notes into smaller and smaller units as he recaps the theme.

If the CD has a drawback it’s the few seconds of mumbling pseudo-jive talk from Lavelle and one of others that detracts when it appears from Thompson’s exceptional string-bending plus Lavelle’s braying trumpet lines.

There are no polka intimations, Hispanic tinges or jive-talking on War Rug, but a similar level of transcendence also isn’t reached. It could be churlish to suggest it, but perhaps the drummer and bassist’s non-jazz gigs with bands like the No-Neck Blues Band and Stars Like Fleas contributes to this. Certainly both also have improv credentials with Hayner a member of TEST and Sawyer having recorded with guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil. It may be significant, however, that Lavelle also plays cuica or Brazilian friction drum at times to create additional sandpaper-like scrapes. On certain tracks as well Hayner brings out an electric bass for distorted reverb, an action that unbalances the basics acoustic thrust of the disc.

Much more notable are those instances when the concentrated pulsations of the three generate an undulating drone, using techniques which subvert the qualities of these acoustic instruments to replicate the textures of pseudo-electronics. Overall, however, the reference points are definitely directed more towards AA (American saxophonist Albert Ayler) than AAM (the British minimalist/improv combo).

Other influences appear as well. “Rhinecliff Hotel”, for instance, begins with fiery brass triplets and rolling percussion pulses from Lavelle and Sawyer as if they were replicating duets between Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. Then Hayner’s sul ponticello sweeps, the drummer’s rat-tat-tats and flams soon have Lavelle switching to bass clarinet to create wiggling coloratura split tones. Complementing each other in broken octaves as the tempo picks up, ululating lines from each sound but never collide. The finale involves repetitive pumps from Hayner’s bass and high-pitched laughs and shrieks from Lavelle’s clarinet.

The horn man confirms his fluid control of all his instruments during instrumental interludes throughout. As the band is insistent that the CD involved “no overdubs”, it’s clear that Lavelle is capable of playing a phrase on one instrument and then a note cluster on another in the split-second to takes to substitute a reed mouthpiece for a brass one in his mouth. On “Make Me Have a Baby” – draw your own conclusions – as the bassist expels thumping walking bass lines and the drummer shakes out metallic-sounding tubular-bell structures, Lavelle races from undersea snorkeling bass clarinet lowing to darting hummingbird-quick tongue flutters from his flugelhorn. As bell-friction and staccatissimo slurs chase one another, it’s up to a resonating adagio bass line to keep the rest of the tune from splintering.

Agitato capillary slurs, wide, slow-paced vibrations and bass waist scrapes plus enough firepower in the drumming to make the tones almost sound like explosions also figure in the CDs denouncement.

Either CD can be held up – and collected – as a demonstration of Lavelle’s maturing talents, although Greene’s and Thompson’s exceptional partnership still give Spiritual Power the edge.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: Spiritual: 1. Spiritual Power^ 2. Stars Like Fleas# 3. Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can)* 4. End Times# 5. I Will Have Love in my Life^ 6. Hey Liduva# 7. Seth Speaks^

Personnel: Spiritual: Matt Lavelle (trumpet*, flugelhorn^, bass-clarinet#); Hilliard Greene (bass) and Mike T.A. Thompson (drums)

Track Listing: War: 1. Slave Grave# 2. Back in New York 3. Like I Trust Your Friends 4. Make Me Have a Baby 5. The Forest Lord 6. Rhinecliff Hotel 7. An Actor on TV 8. War Rug 9. The Chill and Then the Stupor 10. Blackwood.

Personnel: War: Matt Lavelle (trumpet, flugelhorn, cuica and bass clarinet); Matthew Heyner (bass) and Ryan Sawyer (drums and percussion)