Sabir Mateen

Urdla XXX
RogueArt ROG-0026

Matthew Shipp/Sabir Mateen


NotTwo NW 817-2

One of the linchpins of the Free Jazz scene centred around New York’s Lower East Side, multi-reedman Sabir Mateen’s fiery improvising has been a contributing factor to the musical successes of many bands, most notably those led by bassist William Parker and trombonist Steve Swell, plus his own combos.

Nonetheless the true mark of a sophisticated improviser is how inventively the musician operates alone or nearly so; and these CDs confirm the breadth of Mateen’s creativity. Recorded at New York’s Roulette performance space, but without an audience present, SAMA is a duo date that matches Mateen’s clarinet stylings with the piano of Matthew Shipp, another downtowner who has also worked with everyone from Parker (William) to Parker (Evan). Using alto saxophone, clarinet, alto clarinet, bells and percussive noise-makers Mateen is recorded alone with a live audience on Urdla XXX. His concert marked the 30th anniversary of Urdla, an engraving workshop in Villeurbanne, France.

Infused with the significance of the situation, he begins the French celebration, almost out of earshot, shaking his bell-tree, chanting and yodeling, until he reaches centre stage and begins to play. And what playing it is. Abstract and atonal, it’s also striking and significant. Throughout, side-slipping and tongue-slapping vibrations pump and dart, alternating moderato chalumeau warbles and strident altissimo splutters. Frequently playing in broken octaves, his reed lines encompass double and triple-tongued pressure as often as they’re legato and unforced.

Case in point is “Sekasso Blues” that only in its final measures approaches blues tonality. At the top, Mateen backs into an improvisation, swiftly accelerating from moderato and mid-range lines to honks, quacks and single notes stretched to their limits without breaking. After attaining a series of languid harmonies, he tries out different sonic strategies until reaching the expected blues line.

With gospel-like reed harmonies sounding and shaman-like bell-tree shaking, Mateen’s instrumental message here is universalistic rather than solipsistic; and one that never loses sight of jazz roots. Two earlier Free Jazz reedists – alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons (1932-1986) and tenor saxophonist Frank Wright (1935-1990) – both of whom were at the prime of their powers in the years when Urdla was establishing itself – are honored in separate compositions.

“Jimmy Lyons”, speaks to the dual inside/outside identity of the saxophonist who was pianist Cecil Taylor’s confrere for many years. It contrasts altissimo alto saxophone screeches and long, mellifluous timbres, building up lines to their limits, but definitely ending in the tonic. More complex, “One for the Rev, which is Rev. Frank Wright”, celebrates this associate of Albert Ayler who moved from R&B to Free Jazz, with what sounds like variations of “Bye Bye Blackbird”. Mateen also plays it on alto saxophone with plenty of wide vibrato flutters, narrowed multiphonics and thematic variations that trade balladic inferences for triple-tonguing and rhythmic patterning. With a shrieking finale, the piece remains singularly less resolved at the climax, unlike the legato and pulsating reed timbres with which Mateen himself ends this live recital.

If Urdla XXX is about singular celebration and memory – honoring Mateen’s heroes along with an important European arts workshop – then SAMA is undoubtedly American and very much in the present. The eight inventions, numbered sequentially, resemble free fantasias, designed to highlight the solo and contrapuntal talents of pianist Shipp and Mateen, who confines himself to standard clarinet.

Compare “SAMA Three” for instance with “SAMA Seven”. The former captures a sound transformation as Mateen’s vibrating flutter-tonguing and top-of-range squeals meet Shipp’s thick chording and powerful voicing in such a way that both parts uptick to feather-light jollity. The pianist bounces arpeggios and bell-pealing-like timbres, with key strumming and fanning, while the clarinetist peeps his way up the scale, finally attaining shrill clusters and an elongated tone held until the end. “SAMA Seven” on the other hand, is awash in dark, bluesy keyboard ruminations from Shipp and slithering glissandi from Mateen. As the largo trills and reed bites press up against languid and pulsated piano chording, the exchange moves from a slight mutual hesitancy to a contrapuntal duet of extended reed slurs and strummed chords.

Establishing a framework, Shipp at points introduces portamanto cascades and percussive rumbles extended with pedal pressure so that Mateen’s narrowed and liquid vibrated tones appear in counterpoint. Elsewhere Shipp reaches into the piano’s innards for soundboard echoes, plucking the wound strings like a guitar’s. This adds an astringent pattern to his playing, spicing it correctly like a chef adding the proper amount of garlic to a pasta dish. When it appears that he figures Mateen’s tremolo obbligatos and smooth glissandi don’t further flavor the musical dish, Shipp speeds up the tempo from andante to presto, forcing the clarinetist to match the change by the means of singular and abstract squeaks.

With help from this friend, SAMA proves that Mateen is a sympathetic and inventive duet partner. Meanwhile Urdla XXX shows that his improvising can be just as stimulating on its own.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Urdla: 1. The City of Lyon 2. Art Dance 3. Dakka Du Boo Yu! 4. Music is Sound and Sound is Music 5. Jimmy Lyons 6. Sekasso Blues 7. One for the Rev. - Rev. Frank Wright 8. More than a Hammer and Nail 9. Blessing to You

Personnel: Urdla: Sabir Mateen (alto clarinet, alto saxophone, small percussions and vocal)

Track Listing: SAMA: 1. SAMA 1 2. SAMA 2 3. SAMA 3 4. SAMA 4 5. SAMA 5 6. SAMA 6 7. SAMA 7 8. SAMA 8 9. SAMA 9 10. SAMA 10

Personnel: SAMA: Sabir Mateen (clarinet) and Matthew Shipp (piano)