November 23, 2007
Leaf Note LNP 0208
Ras Moshe Quartet
KMB Jazz KMB-007
Geography is sometimes an extraneous element when it comes to creativity, as two accomplished New York-based saxophonists demonstrate on CDs with their own bands. Part of the fourth – or is it fifth or sixth (?) – generation of non-mainstream players, reedists Ras Moshe and Saco Yasuma sometimes work together in various ensembles – most notably trombonist Steve Swell’s big band – but their backgrounds couldn’t be more dissimilar.
Japanese-born, Yasuma, who plays alto saxophone and xaphoon or bamboo saxophone on Another Rain, took up saxophone when she moved to New York a dozen years ago in order, she says, to reflect her voice and breath. Moshe, who plays tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and flute on Transcendence is in the ecstatic tradition of John Coltrane and Frank Wright, is a proud Brooklynite and has been one since birth.
His quartet is divided between veterans and tyros. Bassist Shayna Dulberger is a well-schooled player, who also plays in other New York groups such as the Introscopic Music Ensemble. A Bostonian who played with drummer Dennis Warren’s FMRJE, guitarist Dave Ross is also a member of the Synergy band with Moshe and Yasuma. Drummer Rashid Bakr, on the other hand has been part of many Free Jazz combos since he first worked with pianist Cecil Taylor in the 1970s.
Bakr, and brassman Roy Campbell, who is featured on Yasuma’s CD, are part of the co-op Other Dimensions in Music combo. Other Another Rain participants include bassist Ken Filiano, who works with bands on both American coasts and internationally; pianist Andrew Bemkey, who has played with Campbell and bassist William Parker; and percussionist/producer Michael T.A. Thompson, another associate of Campbell and Parker.
A defining characteristic of both CDs – recorded by happenstance one month apart in the same Brooklyn studio – is their rhythmic accessibility. Avoiding heavy back-beat emphasis, the tempo arises generically from the performances themselves, with the rhythm sections – especially the bassists – holding down the pulse and serving as connective tissue for the improvisations.
This is most apparent on Transcendence’s “Turtles All The Way Down”, which contrapuntally matches the slap-bass lines of composer Dulberger, swelling reed bites from Moshe and note-crunching, slurred fingering from Ross. Although the guitar part is a bit too upfront in the mix – as it is throughout the session – Ross’s display of intricate finger picking follows its own path as Barkr strikes small percussion instruments and Moshe sounds a Tranesque line.
Echoes of Trane – and one of his disciples on “Flute Peace for Charles Lloyd” – permeates the saxophonist’s playing on the CD, and never more so than on the 10½-minute “All Flow”. Encompassing scene-setting, Jimmy Garrison-like bass work, Bakr throwing down ratamacues, rolls and bell rattles, plus distinctive acoustic guitar comping from Ross, this is Moshe’s showcase from beginning to end. Tonguing double and triple flutters from his tenor, the saxman turns to side-slipping obbligatos and extended arpeggios that intensify as they expand. After bowed bass and distorted, slack-key guitar frails distend the compositional shape still further, Moshe re-enters the fray with a reed-biting variation of the theme – which he then proceeds to shred with altissimo shrieks and falsetto growls. On top of widening downstrokes from Ross, the saxophonist finally relaxes his lip enough to restate the head.
Despite numerically more instrumental firepower, there isn’t the same contrast between light and darkness, buoyancy and bulk on Another Rain, Yasuma’s debut disc. Working further into the tradition than Transcendence, the CD features frequent call-and-response passages between the front line and the rhythm section. Additionally, the rolling chords that often characterize Bemkey’s accompaniment vary from McCoy Tyner-like modal runs to the sort of advanced Freebop comping that was a specialty of 1960s and 1970s pianists on Blue Note sessions.
However some unique touches frequently move the nine tracks – all of which except for one group improvisation are written by Yasuma – away from her influences and into their own realm. “Calm Water”, for instance, not only matches bowed bass and trumpet lines to contrast with Yasuma’s wispy, vibrated flute-like timbres – likely from the xaphoon – but adds Bemkey’s lowing bass clarinet for additional color. Thompson contributes Africanized tree-drum rhythms, Filiano slides out snaky, oud-like pattering and Campbell’s muted horn accompanies the adagio drumming.
Elsewhere Thompson interrupts the overly-smooth exposition on the title track with thumping batá drum-like hand slaps, encouraging the pianist’s notes to transform first into folksy licks than to introduce hints of gospel chording. Eventually Yasuma’s own relaxed climatic line circles back to the head.
Then there’s “The Fifth Season”. Taken andante, the piece mates harsher piano accents with a reed output that migrates from ethereal bamboo sax lines to triple-tongued Free Jazz intensity. Bemkey’s modal exposition and strummed dynamics are seconded by Filiano’s sul tasto squeezes and scrapes plus Thompson’s drum and cymbal chinks. Subsequently each part bonds for the echoing crescendo.
While neither CD is so outstanding that it’s likely to broadcast the reputation of either saxophonist beyond the confines of the non-mainstream, each shows considerable degrees of style and originality. Remember for instance, how many sessions Coltrane and Jackie McLean recorded before they became standard bearers. Similar maturing and style codification characterize these early efforts by both saxophonists.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Rain: 1. Invisible Matters 2. Liquid Entity 3. Fat Orange Moon* 4. The Fifth Season 5. Calm Water 6. Labyrinth 7. Straight Upwards 8. A Wind Blew Into My Hands 9. Another Rain
Personnel: Rain: Roy Campbell (trumpet and flugelhorn [not #4 and #9]); Saco Yasuma (alto saxophone and xaphoon [bamboo saxophone]); Andrew Bemkey (piano); Ken Filiano (bass) and Michael T.A. Thompson (sound rhythm percussion) plus Golda Solomon (words)*
Track Listing: Transcendence: 1. Transcendence 2. Far Sight 3. If You See Something, Say Something 4. Sun Room 5. Flute Peace for Charles Lloyd 6. All Flow 7. Carol Not Christmas 8. Interstellar Brooklyn 9. Turtles All The Way Down
Personnel: Transcendence: Ras Moshe (alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet and flute); Dave Ross (guitar); Shayna Dulberger (bass) and Rashid Bakr (drums)