April 16, 2013
AACM meets Amis français; Watershed – the band and the CD – maintains its individuality by mixing improvisations and compositions from both sides of the Atlantic in this live program. Representing France is the inventive partnership of bassist Bernard Santacruz and drummer Denis Fournier, who singly or together have worked with everyone from saxophonists Archie Shepp and Byard Lancaster to pianists Siegfried Kessler and Mal Waldron. Both self-taught, their colleagues from Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) are music school trained cellist Tomeka Reid, also a member of drummer Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly and flutist/piccolo player Nicole Mitchell, who has worked with a lengthening list of first-class improvisers. Added impetus comes from Madison’s Hanah Jon Taylor playing tenor and alto saxophones, flute and electronic valve instrument. He’s a lesser-known AACM veteran who was part of a long-standing trio with the late bassist Malachi Favors.
In spite of the superficially contrasting backgrounds, the five easily find common ground creating advanced Free Jazz. This is made flagrantly obvious when you note the titles of two of the CD’s five compositions. Fournier’s “Dannie Richmond” is a salute to bassist Charles Mingus’ long-time drum associate; while Reid’s “Prayer for Wadud” celebrates pioneering Free Jazz cellist Abdul Wadud, who often played with saxophonist Julius Hemphill. Although the latter is a gloomy lament mostly concerned with contrasting legato cello pumps and rather passive flute and sax timbres, plus backing rhythms apparently sourced from a billowing thunder sheet; “Dannie Richmond” is a major statement.
Sauntering from an exposition that’s centred on concentrated drum bumps plus double bass string strums, and which evolves into a confident stop-time finale; the theme is defined by fluttering tones from Taylor and Mitchell, paced by Santacruz’s low-pitched rumbles. Not really Mingus-like, despite the dedication, the music reaches a crescendo as the tenor saxophonist smears and snorts, the flutist growls out staccato multiphonics and the cellist double stops while sawing her strings.
The other memorable tunes are from Fournier as well, with the concluding “La Voce de la Luna” trumping “Le Partage des Eaux”. Although the latter features strong work from both string players, the limpid melody loses something when animation has to come from the calliope-like shrills of Taylor’s EVI. Also sequences of stop-start emphasis seem a little too close to Chick Corea’s “Spain” to give Fournier kudos for originality.
“La Voce de la Luna” on the other hand overcomes its Oriental inflections as billowing string stretches are harmonized with higher-pitched flute lines. As the narrative plays out, the balance between Santacruz’s hard thumps and Mitchell flat-line but flighty lyricism is properly contrasted. Eventually scene-setting horn blats, accompanied note-by-note by bull fiddle motions, create the proper theatrical climax.
It may be a long way from the American Midwest to Junas France, where this CD was recorded, but the improvisers from both continents united for a thoughtful program of high-quality music.
Track Listing: 1. Dannie Richmond 2. Le Partage des Eaux 3. Pathways 4. Prayer for Wadud 5. La Voce de la Luna
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell (flute, alto flute and piccolo); Hanah Jon Taylor (tenor and alto saxophones, flute and EVI); Tomeka Reid (cello); Bernard Santacruz (bass) and Denis Fournier (drums)