Steve Swell’s Fire Into Music

Swimming in a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow
Rogue Art ROG-0009

Showcasing four major players operating at the top of their game, this nearly 73- minute CD is a pulsating and passionate essay on top-flight composition and improvisation that stays fully in the present while subtly referencing the past. Most pieces feature expected call-and-response from the horns, and the heads are nearly always recapped.

With his ability to articulate J. J. Johnson-style runs as effortlessly as he finesses Classic Jazz inflected tremolo slurs, trombonist Steve Swell, who wrote two-thirds of the tracks, builds many of them on the contrapuntal contrast between his solid timbres and the astringent trills of veteran alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc. As their intertwined output explores the spectrum of extended techniques, the tunes’ fundamental rhythmic shape is maintained by bassist William Parker. With that function solidified, drummer Hamid Drake – who may, along with the bassist, be the most recorded advanced jazz player of this century – pops and ruffs his drums, whacks wood blocks and generally elasticizes the beat.

Although Parker offers a mournful arco intro to “For Arthur Williams”, in contrast his four-square, double-and-triple stopping provides the bottom on “For Grachan”, Swell’s swinging blues honoring older trombonist Grachan Moncur III. Each quartet member shines on the 17-minute title tune, which is initially squeezed back-and-forth by unaccompanied horns, then slinkily torqued with the entry of the rhythm section. Braying plunger trombone tones, nasal reed spits and bell-pealing propel the mid-range pitch variations that reflect the title.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 336