Silke Eberhard/Dave Burrell

Jazzwerkstatt JW 112

Sonny Simmons/François Tusques

Near the Oasis

Improvising Beings ib10

One European and one American musician face off on these live duo sessions, each of which matches a woodwind player with a pianist. While the results are equally simpatico, the couplings couldn’t be more dissimilar.

For a start Near the Oasis, recorded at New York’s Vision Festival, features two veterans of the Free Jazz wars performing together for the first time in North America on a program of mostly reconstituted Bop classics. The saxophonist/English hornist is Louisiana-born Sonny Simmons, 79, who was part of the New Thing in the early 1960s, and has lived in France for the past decade. His partner is Paris-based pianist François Tusques, who came to Free Jazz around the same time as Simmons, and over the years has played with a clutch of memorable European and American innovators.

In marked contrast, Darlingtonia – recorded six months earlier at a live Berlin gig – showcases only one Jazz veteran. It’s Philadelphia-based pianist Dave Burrell, 72, who moved in the same New Thing circles as Simmons in the 1960s and has subsequently partnered saxophonists like Archie Shepp and David Murray. His associate here however is German-born alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard, three decades his junior, who besides leading her own ensembles is involved in an Ornette Coleman tribute duo with Japanese pianist Aki Takase.

This knowledge of Free Jazz from its beginnings, plus familiarity with piano-saxophone interaction, removes any awkwardness that could have arisen when dynamics involve a young European player and an older American improviser. With each of the seven compositions named with insect and botanical terms, the weight of referential history is also lifted. At the same time Burrell, who is known as the song man of the avant-garde, isn’t above textural allusions. Both “Lytta Vesicatoria” and “Ensifera”, the CD’s first and final track include Ragtime-like playing on his part, and throughout the program fleeting snatches of other tunes enter the improvisations. Eberhard is also comfortable in this milieu. On “Rhynocoris Iracundus” for instance, she not only responds to Burrell’s two-handed vamps and processional octave jumps with double-tonguing, split tones and honks, but in the final section introduces licks whose dramatic vibrato resembles that of “Tender is the Night”.

Whether Eberhard’s tone is breathy and enervated or altissimo and agitated, and whether Burrell’s interface involves allusions to parlor pianism or the key-fanning and note-bending of the avant-garde, the satisfying conclusion of each track proves that distinctive strategies adhere satisfactorily. Low-frequency note selection from the pianist on “Liloceris Lil II” for example, take the form of glissandi strained through reduced volume; Eberhard counters with measured flutter tonguing and cascading spills. On the other hand “Ensifera”, where Burrell manages to simultaneously allude to kinetic Ragtime and a Monkish metronome, as the saxist’s reed phrasing involves split-tones is kept on even keel to such an extent that calm blankets the finale.

Tusques’s first-ever North American gig is much more frenetic than the Burrell-Eberhard match-up however, with Simmons leading and the pianist providing the backdrop on which to build contrafacts. In truth, the most uncharacteristic duet is the first, “Near the Oasis/L'Alexandrin Africain”, which blends compositions from both partners into a nearly 16½-minute tour de force. With the pianist supplying either crashing cadenzas or solemn intervals of almost equal temperament in pseudo-march time, Simmons, on English horn, exhibits unique coloration with a distinct pinched tone. By the time the second theme is heard, so too is Tusques’ energetic chording. Eventually his walking bass line mixes with Simmons’ stuttering reed bites and yodels.

Subtly destabilizing four Bop anthems during the rest of the set, reed vamps, pin-pointed note placement plus disruptive theme-severing re-harmonize some tunes. Reconstituted “Theme for Ernie”, for example, becomes a close cousin to a Monk composition via Tusques’s measured comping and Simmons’ ear-splitting altissimo. Real Monk, “Bolivar Blues” is spun into thematic variations from Tusques after he plays the expected theme with the proper shading and voicing. When the head finally returns it’s Simmons turn to disturb it. Staccato and smearing as if he was playing a film noir sound track, the altoist’s string of broken notes eventually brings forth clanking vamps and tremolo passion from the pianist, who use these tropes to solidify into cohesion the saxman’s bubbling squeals and stratospheric vibrations.

Without resorting to clichés, these CDs provide more proof of music’s universality. However, each duo’s individuality is confirmed with a singular strategy that leads to satisfactory conclusions.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Darlingtonia: 1. Lytta Vesicatoria 2. Meloidae 3. Liloceris Lil II 4. Rhynocoris Iracundus 5. Harmonia Axyridis 6. Stephanitis Takeyai 7. Ensifera

Personnel: Darlingtonia: Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone) and Dave Burrell (piano)

Track Listing: Near: 1. Near the Oasis/L'Alexandrin Africain 2. ‘Round Midnight 3. Theme for Ernie 4. Bolivar Blues 5. Night in Tunisia

Personnel: Near: Sonny Simmons (alto saxophone and English horn) and François Tusques (piano)