Hession/Wilkinson/Fell

Two Falls & A Submission
Bo’Weavil weavil 44 CD

Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor

Eliyahu

Not Two MW-854-2

Blunt, powerful, unrelieved improvisation is the collective raison d’être of these sessions, which conclusively emphasize the polyphonic textures that arise from the intersection of a mere three acoustic instruments. Naturally it helps that the six players involved are experienced technically and committed to sonic exploration.

The variables are partially transatlantic. Alto and tenor saxophonist Avram Fefer, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Chad Taylor are American; alto and baritone saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Paul Hession are British. Besides this, the nine tracks Fefer recorded in studio are dedicated to the memory of his late father; the three extended tracks on the other CD were recorded during a rare club gig by Hession, Wilkinson and Fell.

More of a group effort, Two Falls & A Submission captures only part of the trio members’ mercurial careers. Fell leads his own combos and has also been successful composing extended works for gargantuan ensembles. Hession is one of the United Kingdom’s busiest drummers, working with players ranging from saxophonist George Haslam to bassoonist Mick Beck. The work ethic extends to his longtime associate Wilkinson, who has had affiliations with bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble among many others.

Revis and Taylor are similarly active and adaptable. The bassist is best-known for his gigs with trumpeter Russell Gunn and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, while the drummer’s less mainstream affiliations include saxophonist Fred Anderson and as half of the Chicago Underground Duo, cornetist Rob Mazurek. More exploratory, Fefer’s playing partners have ranged from trombonist Steve Swell to pianist Bobby Few.

Revis’ mainstream command of bulky, unaffected bass lines is needed on Eliyahu since Taylor’s resourceful beat tinting is on displays as much as his time-keeping. Meanwhile the saxophonist is constantly on, spinning out elongated lines from both his horns, rife with glossolalia and extended techniques, tongue stops and flutters as well as reed bites. A piece such as “Wishful Thinking” demonstrates how Fefer’s bulky, buzzing body-tube vibrations on tenor saxophone accelerate with Trane-like majesty to rumbling growls and triple-tongued multiphonics. Meanwhile the bassist walks steadily and the drummer clanks his drum rims. Also notable is “Appropriated Lands”, a stop-time alto saxophone showpiece with a repeated chorus, where timbres encompass gritty altissimo slurs and supple repeated note clusters. In contrast, Taylor’s cross sticking and rolls underlie a rhythm on “Essaouira” that seems to take in fralicher and Hora-like arrangements. Furthermore, the drummer’s ruffs, pops and cymbal splashes encourage Fefer’s splintering slurs, triple-tonguing and overblowing until bass thumps presage a head recap.

Overall, the reedist’s most relaxed playing comes on the title track. Again balanced by Taylor’s descriptive rolls, mallet driven taps and shaking cymbals, Fefer turns the theme inside out, wrenching every extension, overtone and variation from each note with pressurized intensity.

Pressurized intensity would appear to be Wilkinson’s favored mode of expression. In truth there are points during the CD’s 60 minutes, when reed slurs, cries and mastication appear inadequate for all he wants to express. At those occasions he begins vocalizing, either with echoing basso puffs or acute yelps. On “First Fall” for instance, these aren’t random grunts, but yodels, whoops, lip-bubbling and chanting that fit the narrative the way similar verbal outbursts from tribal musicians complement their playing. Nonetheless, with “First Fall” percolating for more than 32½ minutes and the other two tracks nearly 16 and almost 13 minutes respectively, it’s evident that the saxophonist’s productivity has no beginning and no end. Tracks appear to finish when he runs out or breath or stamina, not ideas.

On later tracks with Fell’s sprawling, percussive bass strokes and Hession’s drags strokes and shivering cymbals behind him, Wilkinson lets loose with throated reflux from the baritone saxophone that so quickly soars to screaming altissimo that you wonder if he has actually returned to the smaller sax. Even as “The Submission” ends with a cornucopia of reed-shredding harmonics and shrill split tones, it’s nearly certain that the defining climax of moderato and curvaceous line extensions comes from the alto.

With more than one-half hour devoted to “First Fall” however, the saxophonist as well as his cohorts have even more space in which to explore the variants of dissonant interaction. Backed by Fell’s unvarying rhythmic pulse and Hession’s drags, rebounds and door-banging smacks, Wilkinson keeps spinning new tones and timbres from his horns. When he isn’t vocally screaming multiphonics, the saxophonist builds up a collection of abstract lines, staccato vibrations and intense glossolalia as well as juddering bites and snorts. At points the drummer responds with cross sticking and drumstick scratches on a cymbal top as Fell scrubs spiccato textures. And, as elsewhere, there are sequences, almost always played on alto saxophone, where the reedist proves that, if so inclined, he can create a moderato, impressionistic interlude. Those intervals don’t last very long however, and shortly afterwards Wilkinson’s reed playing is off in the stratosphere again, packing enough ideas and reed timbres into his exposition that would give many other saxophonists material for a dozen forays. Finally as the rhythm section rolls along unperturbed and sympathetic, the saxophonist trades the split tones and flutters for slides and silences.

From both sides of the Atlantic ocean, trios use the freedom implicit in focused improvisation to create memorable CDs.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Eliyahu: 1. Song for Dyani 2. Wishful Thinking 3. Appropriated Lands 4. Eliyahu 5. Trued Right 6. A Taste for Love 7. Essaouira 8. City Life 9. Eliyahu (2)

Personnel: Eliyahu: Avram Fefer (alto and tenor saxophone); Eric Revis (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)

Track Listing: Two: 1 First Fall 2. The Submission 3. Second Fall

Personnel: Two: Alan Wilkinson (alto and baritone saxophones); Simon H. Fell (bass) and Paul Hession (drums)