Mark Hanslip/Javier Carmona

Babel BBV 1192

Ellery Eskelin & Gerry Hemingway

Inbetween Spaces

Auricle Records AUR-11

Saxophone-percussion duos have become such an accepted part of improvised music that a CD featuring that configuration has almost become a rite of passage for the musicians involved. Still, as these discs attest, there remains interesting avenues to explore in this stripped-down format.

For the past quarter century veteran American drummer Gerry Hemingway has expressed himself in a variety of configurations from big bands to solo. Someone whose saxophone duo partners have included Ivo Perleman, John Butcher and Anthony Braxton, Inbetween Spaces confirms that he obviously still figures the concept is viable. The tenor saxophonist who confirms this with him is New York’s Ellery Eskelin, whose recording career is about a decade shorter, and is most often found in trio settings, including those under his own leadership.

Newer to the scene and in the United Kingdom are tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip and percussionist Javier Carmona on Dosados, a London-recorded session. Spanish-born Carmona is in the London Improvisers Orchestra and has recorded with bassist Dominic Lash and pianist Alexander Hawkins among others. Meanwhile Birmingham (England)-native Hanslip is a co-founder of the Loop Collective, and has gigged with everyone from pianist Veryan Weston to drummers Tony Bianco and Tony Marsh.

Perhaps due to the vigor of youth, the 11 tracks on Dosados sound more ferocious than what is produced on Inbetween Spaces. Additionally, once the two settle into a groove, the Londoners mover past initial clipping and clattering from the percussionist and low-pitched timbral reflux from the saxophonist to symbolically grab great hunks of sound and masticate, rupture and mulch them every which way.

Although there’s a point in one number when it seems as if Hanslip is quoting “Stranger in Paradise”, most of the material is much more abstract as it shifts among sharp rebounds and ruffs from Carmona and long-lined reed bites and tongue flutters from the saxman. Frequently the reedist is able to corkscrew guttural snorts and slurs circularly upwards to altissimo squeals, while the drummer keeps up his side of the equation by shading Hanslip’s chromatic lines with cymbal clacks plus off-centre rolls and flams.

Most striking is the duo’s work on tracks such as “ffs” and “Boules”. On the busy “ffs” a climax of bitten-off textures from Hanslip follows his initial horn exploration encompassing tone clusters propelled forward and circular-breathed vibrations. Meanwhile Carmona busily shatters silences with bell-tree shakes. On the latter tune, the drummer uses rebounds and press rolls to concentrate and stretch the beat, then doubles the rhythm with heavy strokes as the saxophonist’s triple-tonguing gradually narrows to pauses and finally full stops.

Less frenetic and more low-key, there are times during the Eskelin and Hemingway improvisations that the two suggest askew variants on Lester Young’s and Jo Jones’ unperturbed swing sense and melody line stretching. With the shaded timbres and double-tonguing expressed by the saxophonist plus the shattering beats and pumping strokes the drummer brings to his playing, however it likely mainstreamers won’t be lining up at future Eskelin and/or Hemingway gigs. That’s a pity too, because on the evidence from this session, they’ll miss magisterial improvising from both men – singly and together.

“Shaken and Spill” for instance, matches Hemingway’s time-shifting tom and snare pressure with slippery and sliding tremolo expansion from Eskelin’s horn until the latter’s cries meander and the former’s rhythms produce staccato friction. Concluding with an unruffled display of multiphonic glissandi from the saxophonist, Hemingway finally asserts himself with a coda of bluntly stroked rat-tat-tats.

“Sustain and Footwork” on the other hand is as slow-burning as “Shaken and Spill” resembles an aural flash fire. While the drummer clip clops and drags, parallel improvising from the saxophonist resolves around distanced ghost notes, false register squeals and wispy in-and-out respiration. Continued slurs and pressurized vibrato runs from Eskelin accelerate to peeps and tongue stops making way for an extraordinary display of double timed clanks and crashes from Hemingway that reach their climax as terpsichorean-styled rim shots.

Forums for mature improvisation as well as initiation rituals, with the right partners, duets such as these with every texture in bold relief, can offer masterful listening.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dosados: 1. O Pointy Pointy 2. Mucha Mierda 3. Nipple 1 4. Preambloto Nipple 2 5. Boules 6. Horse-y 7. ffs 8. Deadline 9. [the filler] 10. Jowls, and a Beard 11. Third Nipple with Coda

Personnel: Dosados: Mark Hanslip (tenor saxophone) and Javier Carmona (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Inbetween: 1. Motion and Thought 2. Stillness and Flow 3. Sustain and Footwork 4. Deft and Bounce 5. Shaken and Spill 6. Stars and Treetops

Personnel: Inbetween: Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone) and Gerry Hemingway (drums, percussion and voice)