November 30, 2011
Vibrations of the Day
Porter Records PRCD 4053
At 87 years of age, alto saxophonist, flutist and Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) player Marshall Allen appears to be busier than ever. One would think that the wiry reedist who ascended to the leadership of the Sun Ra Arkestra shortly after Ra’s planet leaving in 1993 would have his hands full shepherding that rambunctious aggregation. Yet he’s obviously free enough – in both senses of the word – to lend his talents to such notable projects as these CDs.
Someone whose distinctive playing was part of drummer Max Roach’s band from 1979 until 2002, tenor saxophonist Odean Pope has the reed support of Allen along with two drummers, a percussionist and bassist on Universal Sounds. Considering they’re both Philadelphians, and despite age differences – Allen was born in 1924 in Kentucky and Pope in 1938 in South Carolina – in essence Allen’s and Pope’s improvisational compass still points towards the same milieu of Blues, Bop and Swing – tempered with Free Playing. Plus as he proved with his long-running, multi-reed Saxophone Choir, Pope knows how to voice more than one saxophone.
Conversely Vibrations of the Day moves the 87-year-old saxophonist into unfamiliar territory, geographically if not sonically. Although there are also three percussionists and another saxophonist present – along with two guitarists – the six members of KonstruKt are all Turkish with the album recorded in Istanbul. Not only was KonstruKt founded in 2008 to play and record improvised music, but the players, while experienced, are also anywhere from one-half to one-third of Allen’s age. Such is the universal quality of Free Music however, that Allen’s interaction with the six advances without even a sonic hiccup.
Pope’s disc is bifurcated into Blues-based material and tracks that are further out – not unlike some of the Arkestra’s later work. On the former tunes, the conception is pretty workman-like with bassist Lee Smith walking, Craig McIver or Jim Hamilton providing the shuffle beat, Pope’s horn pumping out stentorian changes and Allen supplying the responsive obbligato. This formula is especially apparent on the obviously titled “Blues”. Despite the familiar groove though, Pope’s playing is magisterial; heftily slithering and slurring to produce a rougher, deconstructed version of what fellow Philly tenors John Coltrane and Benny Golson were playing in the early 1960s. For his part Allen adds irregular vibrations and contrapuntal pressurized partials.
Conversely the other tracks depend on the addition of unique tones and textures created by Allen’s split tone alto style and the EWI’s airy bird-warbling cries. percussionist Warren Smith, who played in Roach’s M’Boom percussion ensemble and has backed performers as different as saxophonist Sam Rivers and vocalist Aretha Franklin, injects resonation from his tympani, shakes from tambourines, wood blocks and other beat-makers, ringing smacks from his vibraharp and marimba and polyrhythms from the standard drum kit. This is especially apparent on “The Track”, where Smith’s balafon-like wooden thwacks, as well as tympani bounces make common cause with Allen’s outer-space-like vibrations and radio-wave signals produced by the EWI.
Wrapping both strands into an impressive whole is “The Binder”. With the drummers coming on with thick strokes worthy of Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali, Pope smears agitated lines which become more staccato as his cadences advance to altissimo frenzy and strained honks. While this is happening, bassist Smith plays supportive arpeggios and Allen’s squeals and bugle-like expansion unfolds in contrast to lines from the other saxophonists.
Moving a few thousand miles away, tenor and soprano saxophonist Korhan Futacı, the other reed player on Vibrations of the Day, is often involved in call-and-response sections with Allen during that CD’s nine tracks. At points Hüseyin Ertunç adds some flute lines to the mix, but he usually functions as a percussionist and similar to what Smith does on the other CD. A colorist he produces distinctive timbres from percussion, drums and vibraphone. At the same time distorted flanges and resonating licks from dual guitarists Umut Çağlar and Barlas Tan Özemek give the performance an even more distinctive quality. Avoiding any clichéd Orientalism the session still includes subtle and perhaps unintentional Eurasian-inspired textures from the young Turks.
For example there is a vague Ottoman motif to “Space Jungle”, whose Arkestra-like title calls attention to Ra’s twin preoccupations with Afro-centricism and Interplanetary travel – ideas Allen was sure to have internalized in his 30 years with the Arkestra. Here the cross-pulsed vibrations and slithering slurs from contrapuntal sax power share space with shrill, splayed guitar licks which minimize the gap between the intonation of Nashville’s dobro and Istanbul’s cümbüş. Moreover when Allen’s ultra-altissimo reed bites are matched with Futacı’s pulsing tenor saxophone flattement on “Neptune”, either Ertunç’s or Özün Usta’s hand drum accompaniment could easily be linked to doumbek patterns.
Music aside, don’t imagine the KonstruKt members as a fez-wearing revival band however. European Free Music saxophonists such as Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker have guested with the group, making the sextet conversant with contemporary musical innovations. For instance, affiliated resonance in “Neptune” come from vibraphone quivers and one guitarist pulling sharp licks from the strings near the tuning pegs. Additionally thick oscillations from Çağlar’s guitar synthesizer underlie the perpendicular attack from Allen’s EWI that offsets Futacı’s wide fruity tone.
The guitar synth often creates the organ-like, Ra-sanctioned space chords that are a feature of “March Of The Aliens”, alongside the quivering polyphony of Ertunç’s melodica. Clanks and clunks from wood blocks and drum rims plus cymbal resonation add to the general sonic miasma. But with both saxes moving linearly with contrasting and concurrent split tones and peeps, the basic the piece takes on the shape of a country Blues tune, albeit one imagined by Ornette Coleman.
With other extant sounds at different times reminiscent of Albert Ayler-like energetic freak-out, hard-core R&B, industrial Rock and many varieties of experimental improv, KonstruKt has established a unique musical persona. And it’s one that’s enhanced by the contributions of polymath Allen. Dissimilar, but just as compelling, Universal Sounds demonstrates that the saxophonist’s universal sounds can be just as valuable shoring up an all-American improv session.
Track Listing: Vibrations: 1. Through The Asteroids 2. Space Jungle 3. Milky Way 4. March Of The Aliens 5. Supernova 5. The Emperor 7. Sunflower 8. Neptune 9. Spirits
Personnel: Vibrations: Marshall Allen (alto saxophone); Korhan Futacı (tenor and soprano saxophones and voice); Umut Çağlar (guitar and guitar synthesizer); Barlas Tan Özemek (guitar); Korhan Argüden (drums); Özün Usta (percussion and drums) and Hüseyin Ertunç (percussion, drums, vibraphone and flute)
Track Listing: Universal: 1. Custody Of The American Spirit 2. Mwalimu 3.The Binder 4. She Smiled Again 5. Go Figure 6. The Track 7. Blues 8. Custody Of The American (Bullshit Version)
Personnel: Universal: Marshall Allen (alto saxophone and EWI); Odean Pope (tenor saxophone); Lee Smith (bass); Craig McIver and Jim Hamilton (drums) and Warren Smith (percussion, drums, timpani and vocals)