Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder

JDF Music JDF 9

Uri Caine/Han Bennink

Sonic Boom

816 Records 816-1201

Leaving enough space for instantaneous advances, reflections and deflections, two sets of experienced players use only one piano and one drum kit each to show how superior in-the-moment improvisations can result from vastly differing methodologies.

A busman’s holiday of sorts – and aptly described by its title – Sonic Boom, recorded in Amsterdam, matches visiting American pianist Uri Caine (b. 1956) and hometown hero, drummer Han Bennink (b. 1942). While the nine mid-length tracks may surprise those who only know Caine’s more grandiose orchestral projects, where he slyly reclaims the music of so-called classical music icons, Caine has always been an exceptional Jazz keyboardist, well-versed in contemporary tropes and even funk. Similarly while Bennink’s reputation was made in European Free Music with the ICP orchestra, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and the like, his grounding is in modern Jazz, and he always brings a touch of studied swing to his solos, that reference Big Sid Catlett and Kenny Clarke as much as anyone more modern.

Interinfinity on the other hand, is a five-part free form improvisation, recorded in Washington D.C., and featuring two veteran Free Jazzers. Both pianist Joel Futterman (b. 1946) and drummer Alvin Fielder (b. 1935) have had long careers searching out new sonic avenues, often in the company of other long-time tone scientists like saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Firmly in the lineage of other massive in-the-moment, two-instrument matches, such as those Cecil Taylor has had with different drummers, Futterman’s and Fielder’s duet is not so much confrontational as cumulative, instantaneously creating strategies to blend vamps into an ongoing dialogue.

All along the two range through peaks and valleys of hard thrusts and delicate cascades, with in Fuetterman’s case, the piano’s soundboard echoes and internal string manipulations coming into play. Meanwhile Fielder not only sidles out distinctive beats from the expected hi-hat and snare, but on one hand brings pre-modern Jazz bass drum patterning into the mix and on the other uses various combinations of bell ringing, side shots and wooden nerve beats as add-on textures.

Dynamic and repetative the pianist`s tremolo modeling and cascading glissandi are most prominent in the mammoth “Interinfinity Part 1”. But at the same time his high-frequency and high-intensity playing is tempered with certain relaxation. There may be roaring waves of sound throughout, but nowhere is the exposition made secondary to instances of bravado pianism. It’s the same with Fielder’s rhythmic variations. Press rolls, pseudo-door-hammering and explosive bomb-dropping are part of his strategy, but all are in the service of chromatic motion. Most spectacularly, at the end of the introductory track, distinct pumps and plops become individualized enough that it seems as if he’s duetting with himself.

Not that his real duo partner is ever ignored. As the sequences evolve when Futterman ascends to outright modalism, Fielder is there to enliven the results with intense crunches. In contrast, he tempers into connectivity the pianist’s great swathes of double-timed, staccato cadenzas. Nevertheless though, both miraculously manage to impart respite alongside pressurized vamps. By “Interinfinity Part 5” in fact, key-fanning and strumming at different tempos plus well-timed, wood-exposing beats serve to lighten and loosen the duo-pressure into a satisfied, middle-register finale.

If Futterman and Fielder at points extend the Energy Music tradition of the 1960s and 1970s, then Caine and Bennink harken back to the 1930s and 1940s jam sessions and cutting contests. Each man almost literally struts his stuff, but with showy flourishes tempered with micro-paced communication so that the audience is enthralled. Shouting encouragement as both improvise, Bennink’s drumming also goes through his usual emphasized repertoire of clanks and rebounds. By “Hobo”, the third track, he has Caine swinging along with him, chording in such a fashion that his output becomes a strange amalgamation of Hard Bop, Rock and Swing. As Bennink’s solo accelerates to a beat collection that would make Jo Jones proud, Caine continues the musical impersonation with a protracted, single-finger Count Basie-like ending.

From that point on, a dazzling collection of allusions, tropes, burlesques and astounding improvisations follow one after another. Old timey and modern in equal degree, the pianist alludes to everything from back room blues to cool, economic note choices and even “Chopsticks” in his solos. Not to be outdone, the drummer’s sequences move from blindingly rapid to unruffled mid-tempos, always maintaining the narrative and cooperation paramount and never neglecting easy-going swing. Should the category of foot-tapping avant-garde music exist, then Bennink and Caine have attained or invented it.

Both duos here reach a pinnacle of compatible piano/drums improvising with a similar pleasing outcome. Your choice between them is if you want to experience music played with serious breathless intensity or prefer sounds that are just as profound but portrayed as if they’re happy-go-lucky lines created by players with metaphoric smiles on their faces.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sonic: 1. Sonic Boom 2. Grind of Blue 3. Hobo 4. ‘Round Midnight 5. As I Was 6. Furious Urious 7. Upscale 8. True Love 9. Lockdown

Personnel: Sonic: Uri Caine (piano) and Han Bennink (drums)

Track Listing: Interinfinity: 1. Interinfinity Part 1 2. Interinfinity Part 2 3. Interinfinity Part 3 4. Interinfinity Part 4 5. Interinfinity Part 5

Personnel: Interinfinity: Joel Futterman (piano) and Alvin Fielder (drums)