July 30, 2008
Sunny Murray/John Edwards/Tony Bevan
The Gearbox Explodes! Foghorn FGCD 009
Live at Glenn Miller Café
Ayler Records aylCD-079
Stark examples of the fissure that in many cases separates younger musicians from slightly older ones, the ironic situation pinpointed in these releases is that in some cases it’s elders who are willing to try more experiments in their playing than their junior counterparts.
Both of these saxophone-bass-and-drums CDs provide interesting listening, but if one is expanding the improvised music tradition, the other is merely extending it. What’s paradoxical is that The Gearbox Explodes! includes sounds from a saxophonist in his fifties, a bassist in his forties and a drummer heading for his seventy-first birthday. Meanwhile members of the Gyldene Trion are in their twenties and thirties.
There may be a certain geographical poignancy here too since Gearbox drummer Sunny Murray, an American Free Jazz pioneer who now lives in Paris, often played in Stockholm – where Live at Glenn Miller Café was recorded – with leaders such as pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Albert Ayler years before any one of the Gyldene Trions was born.
Murray’s associates on Gearbox recorded at “live at St. Domincs (sic) Retreat Working Mans (sic) Club Newcastle Upon Tyne” are both from the United Kingdom. Tenor and bass saxophonist Tony Bevan is someone whose interpretative work with players like guitarist Derek Bailey created to a new roll for the giant saxophone in Free Music. Versatile and solid, bassist John Edwards is a frequent associate of saxophonists ranging from Evan Parker to John Butcher. As for Murray, he has been the epitome of the Free-Jazz drummer for almost 50 years. Excerpts from this concert appear in Antoine Prum’s documentary film Sunny’s Time Now as well.
On the other disc, tenor and baritone saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar is a multiple jazz poll winner in Sweden, who has played with wide-cross section of musicians ranging from pianist Ran Blake to the Norrbotten Big Band, while bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg and drummer Daniel Fredriksson are part of his working quintet. The rhythm section also plays in Copenhagen-based Italian saxophonist Alberto Pinton’s Quintet, and additionally Fredriksson and Kullhammar are members of Zetterberg’s perhaps sardonically named Hot Five
While the Murray Trio’s three long tracks are evidently long improvisations, the Gyldene Trion stick to songs. Kullhammar and Zetterberg each contribute a line, with the other tracks – Thelonious Monk’s “Friday The 13th” and “Stuffy Turkey” and the standard “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” – augmenting the saxophonist’s stylistic resemblance to Sonny Rollins. On the other CD, playing tenor, Bevan too seems to be emulating Rollins, although his free-form innovations relate to Rollins most experimental period. Bevan however is also no one but himself on bass sax.
Having toured as a trio three years earlier, Murray, Edwards and Bevan are comfortable in each others’ company – with no one (i.e. Murray) pulling rank due to fame or age. There are some drawbacks in this however, since it seems as if each man must take a lengthy solo on each track. Considering each one is operating at the top of his game however, most of the solos are memorable themselves.
On the title tune, for instance, Bevan’s Rollinesque trills, honks and spetrofluctuation gradually build up to renal cries and extended half-swallowed broken tones. Meanwhile Edwards’ double thumping and stroking intensifies to such an extent that the resulting tone adumbrates Murray’s time-keeping. This includes flams and duple time resonations, spectacular cymbal resonation and press rolls. The finale is parceled out among staccato strums from Edwards and march-tempo tongue slaps and smears from Bevan.
More impressive is “Right On Guys”, with a percussion introduction by Murray which encompasses snare and tom tom rat-tat-tats, skittering paradiddles plus rattling and reverberating cymbal snaps. By the time Bevan and Edwards enter they have to work energetically and percussively just to keep up with Murray. The saxophonist tries out reed bites, forced air snarls and molten phrasing to highlight a theme awash with growling note clusters.
Strumming clawed handful of strings and pounding the instrument’s wood for additional reverberation, Edwards’ solo evolves in unison with Bevan’s work and at such fervor that the later is soon triple-tonguing and using glottal punctuation to vigorously push the thickening results decisively. Murray’s rebound introduce a slight Latin tinge, but as soon as Bevan brings out the bass saxophone for round after round of fortissimo gravelly timbres and Edwards responds in kind with spiccato-slicing, the older man simply lays out. With the reed output a mix of mine-shaft-deep honks and squealing tongue slaps and the bass centred on arco double-stopping, Murray mumbles “right on guys” and lets them take the tune out.
Melody and energy aren’t a problem for the Gyldene Trion. But somehow the compositions’ solid centres appears to be missing among the sluicing and snorting altissimo saxophone lines, the drummer’s cymbal smashes, press rolls and drags and the bassist’s sul tasto thumps. Unhurried, “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes”, for instance, has a basically conservative structure firmly rooted in the 1960s. As for the Monk tunes, in the trio’s interpretations, the little-heard “Stuffy Turkey” could be a Swing era throwback, while the treatment of “Friday the 13th” transforms it into a literal finger-snapper. Fredriksson’s drum head popping and snapping and Zetterberg’s a capella triple stopping output enough power. But when coupled with Kullhammar’s theme variations and quotes, the effects skirt Monk’s originality. As for band’s originals, ones such as the bassist’s “Hurricane Ann” merely serve as a showcase for his moderato walking and the saxophonist’s unaccompanied trills.
Kullhammar’s “Snake City Rundown”, named for the area in which he lives, is probably the best performance. On top of dense andante lines from the bassist, he snorts, sallies, cries and rumbles, repeatedly emphasizing similar phrases and resonating note clusters. Still the saxophonist’s point of reference appears derivative, though here it’s John Coltrane rather than Rollins.
Obviously those who follow Swedish jazz more carefully and fans of the Gyldene Trion members’ other bands may give the performance a higher grade. But matching man-against-man, singly and together, the judgment remains that more experienced players who have slogged out endless nights on the bandstand – such as Sunny Murray’s three – can impart a few lessons to younger improvisers.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Gearbox: 1. Right On Guys 2. Hold It Right There 3. The Gearbox Explodes!
Personnel: Gearbox: Tony Bevan (tenor and bass saxophones); John Edwards (bass) and Sunny Murray (drums)
Track Listing: Live: 1. The Night Has A Thousand Eyes 2. Hurricane Ann 3. Stuffy Turkey 4. Snake City Rundown 5. Friday The 13th
Personnel: Live: Jonas Kullhammar (tenor and baritone saxophones); Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass) and Daniel Fredriksson (drums)