Charles Hayward/Han-earl Park/Ian Smith/Lol Coxhill

Mathilde 253
SLAM CD 528

Riveting in its scope and cohesion, this seven-track slice of Free Improv captures the sounds made one night at a London club by an ad-hoc assemblage of players, who ordinarily may not have been expected to jell so effectively.

Ostensible draw is Avant-Rock percussionist Charles Hayward, who over the years has not only been part of bands such as This Heat and Massacre, but also improvised with the likes of soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, bassist Hugh Hopper and composer Heiner Goebbels. Most of this gig at Café OTO pairs him with trumpeter and flugelhornist Ian Smith, a mainstay of the London Improvisers' Orchestra, who traded Dublin for the British capital years ago; and sharp-witted, Cork-based guitarist Han-earl Park, who has played with saxman Paul Dunmall among others. Coxhill himself adds his idiosyncratic saxophone delivery to the trio on the final two tracks.

Before Coxhill’s reed tones supplement the sound mix, Hayward shows that he’s a lot more than a John Bonham or Phil Collins-wanna-be with his inventive variety of percussion implements plus rhythm strategies that include the melodic. Horizontally blowing into a tube that connects a free reed system with the board, he’s additionally produces flexible, accordion-like puffs which meld with Smith’s capillary triplets and bent, nephritic textures during the nearly 18½-minute introductory “Kalimantan”. Contrapuntal inventions are subtly yet simultaneously appended by the drummer’s off-side drags and bouncing rim shots, as Park deconstructs his styling with rasgueado chording and string-snapping twangs.

As they continue, the three prod the tuner every way before exposing its final variant. The treatment consists of blowsy pedal-point from the trumpeter; shuffles and drags from Hayward; and remarkable strategies from the guitarist which involve investing each string with a different weight as he coaxes tones from near the machine head all the way down past the bridge. Half-valve plunger work from Smith includes bent note flutters; while the drummer’s railway signal-crossing-like bell ringing and repetitive cymbal slams provide perfect matches for the guitarist’s flattened string patterns and note extensions.

Subsequent improvisations find Hayward, at one point, banging his wood blocks and cow bell beside Park’s near-effortless, minimalist guitar strokes, shakes and strums in counterpoint with Smith’s staccato breaks and internal blubbering. Alternating braying triplets or grace note quivers from the trumpeter are repeated as often as necessary to link up with the percussionist’s nerve beats and upturning smacks and ruffs as the guitarist’s slurred fingering, distorted licks and clanging strings produce a sound midway between Derek Bailey and Derek and the Dominos.

Coxhill’s distinctive and shrill flutter tonguing adds a new dimension to the last 24-odd minutes of the session. On “Aachen” for instance, his vocalized lines and split tones make common cause with Park’s rhythmically discursive guitar plinking. Elsewhere he vamps a POMO shout chorus that links his reed bites with Smith’s rubato peeps and slithering squeaks as the drummer plays a Rock-styled backbeat. Spetrofluctuation is audible from both horn players and by the set’s completion the pressurized cacophony is harmonized in such a way that individual excursions include melodic quivers, brass bluster, false-register reed asides, guiro-like friction and prominent bass-drum rumbles.

A textbook example of high-class improvising, Mathilde 253’s lack of even Free Music so-called big names shouldn’t be a reason for it to not reach the intelligent audience it deserves.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Kalimantan 2. Similkameen 3. Ishikari 4. Jixi 5. Matanuska 6. Aachen* 7. Oaxaca*

Personnel: Ian Smith (trumpet and flugelhorn); Lol Coxhill (soprano saxophone)*; Han-earl Park (guitar) and Charles Hayward (drums, percussion and melodica)