Jesper Zeuthen Trio

Blackout Records 035

Rosen Für Alle

Live in Zürich

Unit Records UTR 4329

Deciding to negotiate the potentially dangerous shoals of Free Jazz is a decision not taken lightly. Not only does the musician explore potentially unknown territory, but, to mix a metaphor, to succeed the person must be original as well as fearless. In the 21st Century, Free Jazz like underwater exploration has a history, and the player can’t expend his energy trying to rediscover now-familiar entities.

That’s the task facing these two European bands in the common – at least since Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler in the mid-1960s – alto saxophone, bass and drums format. The Swiss-German Rosen Für Alle combo achieves its goal. Meanwhile the all-Danish trio led by alto saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen, while creating exciting sounds, is a bit more derivative.

Veteran saxophonist Zeuthen, has, since 1969, worked with groups ranging from guitarist Pierre Dørge’s New Jungle Orchestra to bassist Johnny Dyani’s Witchdoctor’s Son band as well as leading his own combo. Someone who has concentrated on alto since the late 1970s, Zeuthen’s trio is his most personal outlet, exclusively featuring his own compositions. He even did the drawing n the CD cover. Meanwhile Ribe-born bassist Adam Pultz Melbye helms his own record label as well as having recorded with, among others, the likes of Dørge and German tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Drummer Thomas Præstegaard has worked in bands led by saxophonist Sarah Elgeti.

With his thick, pressurized tone reflecting his beginnings as a tenor saxophonist, and with his mercurial output distinctively referencing Paul Desmond and King Curtis as well as Albert Ayler, Zeuthen’s mature style is at points inimitable. In particular when he utilizes all these sonic reflections, the paced slurs and multiphonic energy engendered could come from no one else and are the highpoints of his contributions to the session. However, at certainly at the beginning, his wide overblowing and gospelish melisma is so often upfront that his solos are almost too similar to Ayler’s playing.

Luckily during this eight-selection live date, Zeuthen’s soloing becomes more individual and more inspired as the session evolves. The earliest and most agitated tracks find the saxman’s glissandi, slurs and shakes defined in such a manner as to relate too closely to his influences, whether song-like inferences, R&B screaming or New Thing tonal expansion. Meanwhile Melbye pumps and stops his strings impressively while Præstegaard’s paadiddles and ruffs match the reedist’s frenetic raunchiness.

“Solajma i Solen” and the two shorter tracks that follow it however, finally show the trio members adapting to a new atmosphere. The bassist’s percussive stops and the drummer’s press roll continuum push the saxophonist’s strained cries and altissimo split tones into more chromatic and individualized lines. With the reed tones still swelling, the resulting passages at least encompass a Love Supreme-like calm before being completed with swallowed split tones. Eventually intermittent drum rolls and a bowed bass obbligato help Zeuthen’s now low-pitched alto playing into a more level and near-tonal finale.

Conversely the situation is different over in Switzerland. A Free Jazzer from the get-go, self-taught alto saxophonist Christoph Gallio, who lives near Zürich, has played with a variety of fellow Swiss and out-of-country experimenters for years. Probably best-known for his Day & Taxi band, Rosen Für Alle (Roses for Everybody) tethers him firmly in the milieu he sometimes abandons for more melodic projects with dancers or composing program music.

The Teutonic twosome behind him are the compatible associates to help explore this powerful nearly 50-minute Free Impov opus. Both Berliners, drummer Oliver Steidle and bassist Jan Roder, are compatible in groups like pianist Aki Takase’s trio and the drummer’s own Soko Steidle. Steidle also plays in Der Rote Bereich with bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, while Roder anchors Die Enttäuschung combo with Mahall and trumpeter Axel Dörner.

With appropriate time put aside for demonstrations of the drummer’s double pumping, rim shots and ruffs and the bassist’s sul ponticello emphasis and angled spiccato, the bulk of the CD’s breathing space is still is given over to Gallio’s inventions. Alongside the saxophonist’s free-form juddering lines and penetrating cries, Steidle slaps his cymbal and hi-hat, ratamacues, as well as taps the nickel plated sides of his drum rims to create appropriately sympathetic sounds. Meanwhile Roder’s time-keeping is divided between gnarly pumps and a steady walking pace.

Using angled extensions and fierce multiphonics, the saxophonist’s broken-octave strategy takes in the nuances of every nephritic split tone and altissimo scream, often outputting super speedy glissandi that split apart as soon as they appear. Elsewhere Gallio accumulates legions of staccato glissandi which flow on seemingly without end or alteration. This penetrating intensity takes in triple and quadruple tongue fluttering plus tongue stopping as Roder thumps his strings and Steidle clatters parts of his kit. By the improvisation’s final measures, as Gallio has wrung and wiggled choked cackling as well as near inaudible trills from his saxophone, the drummer shakes bells to vary his rhythm as the bassist walks the other two safely to a released-tension finale.

Despite rumors of its demise by neo-con players and others, Free Jazz in all its variations still flourishes. These European sessions demonstrate a couple of strategies to display individual variations on the form,

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Zürich: 1. Part 1A 2. Part B 3. Party C 4. Part D 5. Part 2A 6. B

Personnel: Zürich: Christoph Gallio (alto and soprano saxophones); Jan Roder (bass) and Oliver Steidle (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Husene På Volden 2. Sin Skæve Gang 3. Naturligvis 4. Lad Som Ingenting 5. Træet 6. Solajma i Solen 7. Efter Stormen 8. Marie På Bænken

Personnel: Live: Jesper Zeuthen (alto saxophone); Adam Pultz Melbye (bass) and Thomas Præstegaard (drums)