Jeff Albert’s Instigation Quartet

The Tree on the Mound
RogueArt R0G-0046

Two generations of innovative New Orleans residents improvise together on this swiftly moving session of seven original compositions, including four parts of a multi-layered suite. Seconding the Crescent city natives – tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, 78, and trombonist Jeff Albert 43 – are two Chicagoans on bass and drums, creating an ensemble not unlike those extant during the 1920s when the likes of Sidney Bechet and Kid Ory brought Big Easy styles north to the Windy City.

Of course one can’t take the Crescent City-Windy City historical comparisons too far. For a start neither rhythm section member is an apprentice in advanced sounds like early Chicago Jazzers would have been. As a matter of fact bassist Joshua Abrams is proficient playing various world musics as well as being the linchpin of several Chicago bands, including his own. As for drummer Hamid Drake, he’s one of the most in-demand percussionists in the world, as likely to appear on a European festival stage as a U.S. club gig.

Ironically reflecting the musical conservatism that seemed to take hold in the port city around the time Louis Armstrong was fronting his first big band in the early 1930s, for many years Jordan was New Orleans’ only avant-garde player. He was an anomaly in a city where it appears even Boppers are suspect. A respected educator, Jordan more often played with outsiders, ranging from the late Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson to drummer Alvin Fielder of Jackson, Miss. Also an academic, Albert has a long-time Chi-Town connection as a member of one of Drake’s combos. He also founded Lucky 7s, another band featuring fellow slide specialist Jeb Bishop.

Perhaps fittingly, this CD is bookended by two Fred Anderson compositions, “Three on Two” and “The Strut”. Louisiana-born, but a longtime Chicago-area resident, Anderson (1929-2010) only reached his full potential as a stylist in his Windy City maturity. His first composition allows everyone to hit the ground running, amalgamating hard-hitting, bent-note expansions from the saxophonist, evocative slurs from the trombonist, sliding and shifting rhythms from the bassist, plus low-key yet effective percussion accents from the drummer. The scene-setting, dependent on sophisticated percussion patterns on track 1, reaches full fruition six tracks later as Drake’s strutting backbeat provides the proper accompaniment for Jordan and Albert to decide which man can play higher pitches and more stridently. Jordan masticates serial phrases with ease, while Albert showcases rubato brays and extended tongue smears. As Abrams slaps his strings, the tune reaches a crescendo of realized polyphony, as abstract variations of the head characterize the descending lines.

Nonetheless the majority of the session is concerned with the four working through Albert’s “Instigation Quartet” variations. “Instigation Quartet #1”, which is actually played following “Instigation Quartet #3”, is a basic stop-time line, balanced by the bassist’s supple arco and enlivened by the trombonist’s tongue-twisting slurs and the saxophonist’s irregularly vibrated timbre clusters. Conversely, “Instigation Quartet #2”, is a contrapuntal demonstration of how intense altissimo reed dissonance and low-pitch string-stretching can be equally exciting while evolving in a parallel fashion.

Finally the over 12-minute “Instigation Quartet #6” is evidentially an instant composition, with all the musicians listed as composers. Appropriately the themes and variations constantly sweep back-and-forth from one soloist to another. Dazzlingly extending the tailgate tradition further, Albert is centre of attention, sliding from splutters to unexpected timbres roughened by melding lip-pressure and mute-fanning to extricate sounds from deep inside his horn. Jordan contributes divided reed bites in concert with Abrams’ pulses. Then Drake’s timbale-like strokes and doubled press rolls link the exploding sound shards setting the stage for calming Trane-like vibrations from Jordan to summarize and conclude the program.

Surely one of the most notable Chicago-New Orleans collaborations since King Oliver and Louis Armstrong worked with Windy City natives in the 1920s, The Tree on the Mound confirms that among mature Big Easy Jazzmen the spirit of innovation is still extant.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Three on Two 2. Instigation Quartet #3 3. Instigation Quartet #1 4. Instigation Quartet #2 5. The Tree on the Mound 6. Instigation Quartet #6 7. The Strut

Personnel: Jeff Albert (trombone); Kidd Jordan (tenor saxophone); Joshua Abrams (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums)