January 5, 2012
Joe McPhee/Michael Zerang
Creole Gardens (A New Orleans Suite)
No Business Records NBCD 32
Alexey Kruglov/Vladimir Tarasov
SoLyd Records SoLyd 0404
Table & Chairs T&C 006
By Ken Waxman
For reasons of tradition, challenge and economy, the saxophone/percussion session has been a stable of freer jazz ever since the duets of John Coltrane and Rashied Ali or Evan Parker and Paul Lytton. How much these duets impress depends on how many original twists are brought to the formula.
With bravado, Seattle’s Bad Luck uses each of its CDs to display a different take on duo work. Hard-edged and audacious, Bats, the first CD, is as firmly wedded to energy music as if it was recorded in 1967. Throughout Neil Welch ejaculates altissimo split tones and doubled reed bites from his tenor and soprano saxophone with enough spittle and glottal punctuation to suggest a northwest amalgam of Charles Gayle and Albert Ayler. Artless and primitivist in his pounding, drummer Chris Icasiano, smashes drum tops and punches cymbals repeatedly. Although there’s a certain punkish attraction in measuring how far feline yowls, diaphragm-vibrated multiphonics and banshee screams can push the horn before the reed explodes or Welch coughs blood, contradictory sequences on some of the seven tracks are more satisfying. “Sunbeam” features affiliated tones that resemble bagpipe-chanter echoes, while on “Lure” not only does circular breathing reference harmonica buzzes, but Icasiano’s bass drum smacks and tom-tom rattles introduce a shamanistic airiness.
Josephine, the second CD, demonstrates that by adapting 21st century electronics, brittle harmonics are added to the rigidity of the first CD`s sound. Icasiano exposes carefully timed glockenspiel licks besides drum beating, while Welch utilizes quivering bass clarinet textures. Loops and other effects also allow the two to inflate the interaction. The best example occurs on the title track with the initial delicate saxophone line side-slipping into simple repetition, joined by a second processed reed that contrasts with the first. All the while the percussionist holds himself to unforced clip-clops. Processing reaches its logical platform on “Singing Bowl” as three separate reed lines slither beside each other: one of distanced yaps, another of echoing split tones and the third upfront with raspy snarls.
Young Moscow-based reedist Alexey Kruglov and veteran Vilnius-based percussionist Vladimir Tarasov don’t need electronic add-ons to distinguish their first-time meeting. A subtle colorist both in visual arts and sonic timbres, Tarasov guided the Ganelin Trio for 15 years. Since then his reed partners have included Larry Ochs and Anthony Braxton, so Kruglov has large saxophone cases to fill. Considering his background includes work with big bands, rock and jazz combos he succeeds admirably. Kruglov is also a multi-instrumentalist. He uses the basset horn on three semi-legit interludes. Additionally he plays two saxophones simultaneously. This talent isn’t a gimmick, but creates the multiphonics he needs on “Sound Dances” to complement the percussionist’s lightning quick snaps and subtle wood clacks. Most impressive are “Sketches” and “Breakthrough” which follow one another, and provide scope for woodwind extensions. The first showcases Kruglov’s dyspeptic timbres, disconnected snarls and flutter tonguing that meet the percussionist clatters and pops. Meanwhile “Breakthrough” could be a reed recital, as Kruglov’s patterning thickens as the tune develops, finally accelerating to quivering snarls. Tarasov’s rat-tat-tats and rim shots provide the perfect rejoinder.
Moving westward and southward from a studio near Moscow’s Red Square to a space near New Orleans’ Jackson Square are upstate New York’s Joe McPhee and Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang. On the introductory “Congo Square Dances/Saints and Sinners”, McPhee, honoring New Orleans’ legends, blows his pocket trumpet and returns to it throughout the disc. Mixing open horn shakes and metallic grace notes with bugle-like exclamation, he could be Louis Armstrong inventing a new language, while Zerang is his Zutty Singleton, exposing scrubs, ruffs and cross patterns. When a drum roll presages McPhee’s switch to sax, the duo flashes forward a century. McPhee’s false register overblowing plus splintered reed bites are as individualistic as they are post-Aylerian. Zerang’s percussion command brings in ethnic echoes, using hollow wood pops and bell-tree shakes to encourage a linear conclusion from the reedist. The drummer jangles his cymbals and beats his toms while melodically chanting in an Amerindian-like fashion on “Rise/After the Flood”. Meanwhile McPhee’s creates intense slurred pitches on “The Drummer-Who-Sits On-The-Drum” as Zerang does just that with rim shots. On the alternately inchoate and restrained “Crescent City Lullaby” the saxophonist uses the room’s ambience to create a third reed part, reverberating in tandem with his sharp honks and lilting squeezes. Steel drum approximations from the percussionist add a hint of Caribbean melody.
Two wholly satisfying reed-percussion CDs and one partially noteworthy one show that this format can always be freshened with talent and originality.
Tracks: Tempo: A Posteriori 1; Intermedia for Bassett Horn #1; Sketches; Breakthrough; Intermedia for Bassett Horn #2; Echoes of Dialog; Sound Dances; 8. Intermedia for Bassett Horn #3; In Tempo
Personnel: Tempo: Alexey Kruglov: alto and tenor saxophones and basset horn; Vladimir Tarasov: drums and percussion
Tracks: Creole: Congo Square Dances/Saints and Sinners; Rise/After the Flood; Crescent City Lullaby; And Now Miss Annie, The Black Queen; The Drummer-Who-Sits On-The-Drum
Personnel: Creole: Joe McPhee: alto saxophone and pocket trumpet; Michael Zerang: drums
Tracks: Two: Bats: Sunbeam; Glacier; Flare; Salt; Bats ; Mud; Lure; Josephine: Hourglass; Friend & Foe; Josephine; Two; True North; Menagerie; Singing Bowl; Architect
Personnel: Two: Neil Welch: soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, singing bowl, live loops and effects; Christopher Icasiano: drums and glockenspiel