Lol Coxhill and Roger Turner

Success with your Dog
Emanem 5010

Lol Coxhill-Enzo Rocco

Fine Tuning

Amirani Records AMNR024

Nearly ageless and indomitable, British soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, who turned 79 on September 19, seems to have tapped into some sort of woodwind player youth elixir. At least his playing is as notable as an octogenarian as it was when he was say, a callow senior citizen.

Besides playing in the London Improvisers Orchestra, some of whose members are 40 or 50 years his junior, the saxman excels in small group settings. Of course, superior improvising is aided by sympathetic associates, and on these notable sessions, Coxhill is matched individually with two of the best. While fellow Londoner, percussionist Roger Turner, with whom he plays on Success with your Dog, and Italian guitarist Enzo Rocco, who partner him on Fine Tuning may be Baby Boomers, each has considerable experience working with quirky reedists. Rocco has played with Turin’s Carlo Actis Dato and Brussels’ André Goudbeek; and Turner with, among many others, clarinetist Tim Hodgkinson and saxophonist John Butcher.

Success matches three tunes Coxhill and Turner recorded in 2003 with one from 2008. The bald truth is that all sound as if they come from the same session. Fine consists of a single extended improv from 2008. Both discs were recorded live in concert.

Rocco’s close-miked string snaps and agitated chording operate in the same zone of restrained friction as Coxhill’s pumped multiphonics, mid-range snorts and quivering trills. As the two suggest playing strategies to one another, usually in chromatic concordance, the piece goes through several variants. The guitarist’s chunky twangs are replaced by reflective flat-picking, and the saxophonist’s pinched vibrations become more legato and linear. At mid-point, intense tongue-fluttering from Coxhill’s horn and taut friction from Rocco’s strings parallel one another. However, when the reedist introduces abstract circular breathing, the guitarist holds onto blues-like inflections. These licks latterly become more percussive and ultimately serve as timbral connections when the saxophonist’s vibrations threaten to re-orient the interface. Eventually slurred fingering on Rocco’s part and staccato vibrations from Coxhill meet for a joint climax of splayed reverberations.

Oblique textures, stentorian pressures and a cornucopia of whines and squeals on the reedist’s side, plus slaps, pops and rebounds from the percussionist enliven the concert program from Brest and London preserved on the other CD. Listening to “Groomed for the Job” for instance, reveals that Turner and Coxhill are even more simpatico in their interaction than the other duo. Together they evolve a speech-inflected language whose tessitura depends on heartbeat-close cooperation among equals. On that track, the number of altissimo squeals and violent smacks is kept at a minimum as the two work their way through a languid and moderato intermezzo. Their joint language includes Turner’s ingenious shakes and scuffle on drum tops plus wispy and thin – but not shrill –reed tweets from Coxhill.

The selections from Brest appear a little more rhythmically weighty on the drummer’s part and filled with more staccato chirp and tongue stops on the saxophonist’s. But the end result would never be confused with Energy Music. Turner’s strategies include chain rattling, swift snare swabs and buoyant bops that are probably the result of using knitting needles instead of sticks. Meanwhile Coxhill’s protracted chirps are as aviary as they are altissimo. Instructively, with the number of concentrated whines and squalling ripostes heard, there are many tones that could literally come from either instrument. On “Paying through the Nose” for example, after seemingly pushing each instrument’s limits, the two settle into a minimalist variant that forges a theme out of Turner’s tap-dance rhythms and occasional foot pat and Coxhill’s narrow, pressurized and staccato reed blasts. At length, duck-like quacking from the saxophonist and what sounds like aluminum foil crumbling plus press rolls from the drummer convene into a melody-driven finale.

Steve Lacy once opined that “Free Jazz keeps you young”. Coxhill who also played with the American soprano saxophone master, proves the truth of that statement.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fine: 1. (33.43)

Personnel: Fine: Lol Coxhill (soprano saxophone) and Enzo Rocco (guitar)

Track Listing: Success: 1. Paying through the Nose 2. A Collar Counts 3. Tails that Wag 4.

Groomed for the Job

Personnel: Success: Lol Coxhill (soprano saxophone) and Roger Turner (drums and percussion)