The Curators

Thank You
Engine 54

By Ken Waxman

Aptly named The Curators, this well-matched trio can be heard as curators of the ongoing free jazz tradition. Notwithstanding recording in the classic saxophone-bass-drum formation the quirks and adaptations the band brings to its 10 improvisations confirm that the three are extenders not caretakers of freer sounds.

Ferocious in his tone spattering and string spanking on most tunes for instance, double bassist James Ilgenfritz also exhibits the methodical restraint that allowed him to impressively record solo versions of some of Anthony Braxton’s knottier compositions. German-born, NYC-based Joe Hertenstein, who mostly concentrates on laid-back patting plus unexpected noise interjections here, can strengthen his attack if need be. Finally there’s alto and baritone saxophonist Mikko Innanen, who divides his time between NYC and Helsinki. On other CDs he has reconfigured rock tunes into blowing vehicles and found a descriptive place within a Wadada Leo Smith-directed big band tone poem. Here he uses those experiences to digress enough to moderation when his frenetic reed outlay becomes too visceral and Peter Brötzmann-like.

Other influences are insinuated as well. On “(Thank You) For The Offer” Innanen balances responsive rough drum rumbles and bass-string scratching with a supple lilt that’s a close cousin of Sonny Rollins’ calypsos. Furthermore the rasping musette-like vibrations he wrenches from his sax on “(Thank You) For Sticking Around ‘Til The End” are both burnished and sinister-sounding. With Ilgenfritz digging broken chords from near his instrument’s scroll and Hertenstein clinking and clanking off beats, the overall effect owes more to Baghdad than Brooklyn.

Each Curator has the technique to express his ideas succinctly and sophisticatedly, resulting in a feeling of satisfied brio at the CD’s competition. The saxophonist for example expresses his emotional freedom with sound extensions that replicate abstract bird-of-prey cries on some tracks and plunging warthog-like reverberations on others. But it’s free jazz’s sonic procedures The Curators advance, nothing else. No one would accuse the three of shrinking challenges, but the conspicuous animosity trafficked in by some first-generation free jazzers is omitted. Realized performance has trumped revolutionary posturing. Could you imagine a radical ‘60s polemicist like Archie Shepp for instance naming tunes “(Thank You) For Saving A Seat”, “(Thank You) For Your Patience” or “(Thank You) For Not Littering”? They’re all here though along with some fine music.

Tracks: (Thank You) For Stopping By; (Thank You) For The Offer; (Thank You) For Saving A Seat; (Thank You) For Being Understanding; (Thank You) For Not Littering; (Thank You) For Your Patience; (Thank You) For Thinking Of Us In This Difficult Time; (Thank You) For Listening; (Thank You) The Invite; (Thank You) For Sticking Around Til The End

Personnel: Mikko Innanen: alto and tenor saxophones; James Ilgenfritz: bass and Joe Hertenstein: percussion

—For The New York City Jazz Record June 2014