September 1, 2014
The Other Edge
Leo Records CD LR 699
Grencsó Open Collective
BMC CD 205
After about a half a century, so-called avant-garde Jazz is defined differently depending on the players, even if the configuration involved is the standard saxophone-piano-bass-drum quartet. For instance the Hungarian-based Open Collective, led by reedist István Grencsó, performs eight originals wedded to the song form. Meanwhile Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman’s otherwise all-American quartet’s eight originals are on the other edge, exploring almost completely abstract ideas. Each approach is equally valid and memorable.
Coming out of a lineage that includes John Coltrane –and by extension Eric Dolphy – Grencsó, who moves among tenor saxophone, flute and bass clarinet, usually operates at fever pitch, often stimulating the performance with a series of empathized slurs and downward stutters. In contrast, there seems to be no despondency in his clarinet playing which relates more closely to melody statements, compared to his sharper extrusions on the saxophone. Flute appears to be his third double and is used for little more than rhythmic peeping.
Grencsó’s most characteristic performance on tenor is “Sugar Free/Cukormentes”; while “Ivan's Childhood/Iván gyermekkora” shows off his bass clarinet style to its best advantage. On the former, the saxophonist exhibits a hard and heavy growl, as pianist Máté Pozsár, who has also put in time with violist Szilard Mezei’s ensemble, nimbly piles up tremolo notes that relate to McCoy Tyner’s modal playing the way Grencsó’s styling does Trane’s. Together they move the interaction so that it almost hits interstellar space. Pozsár’s contributions to the latter tune build up in stages so that by definition his chording is operating in a zone that could be 21st century boogie-woogie. Accepting the challenge, Grencsó on bass clarinet pumps out chromatically balanced lines that add staccato excitement, then return decisively to conclusively recreate the well-modulated head.
Although Grencsó has faced off with rock bands, and proves throughout this CD that he can invest his tenor playing with the toughness of diamond, that doesn’t mean he can’t essay delicate ballads as well. On “In the Csinálósi Forest/Csinálósi erdőn”, a traditional air arranged by the saxophonist and dedicated to the pioneering Hungarian Free Music pianist György Szabados (1939-2011), with whom he played in MAKUZ, Grencsó’s textures are low-key and respectful. Utilizing a series of vibrated and slurped notes he ends up with a magisterial solo in “A Love Supreme” mode, as the pianist chords sympathetically and bassist Róbert Benkő provides pulsating stops. Later Benkő’s see-saw arco sweeps propel the performance into higher registers as the sax man splays theme variations at various speeds and modes.
There’s nothing as descriptively moving on The Other Edge; in fact there’s nothing programmatic at all about this disc. But that’s because while Flat/Síkvidék has links to sonic structures that have defined so-called avant-garde Jazz over time, The Other Edge’s raison d’être is pure improvisation. Throughout, Perelman, who during the past couple of decades has explored bare-bones Free Jazz in many situations and configurations, pours out every manner of persuasive trope from his saxophone and is joined without fuss by an equally sophisticated rhythm section. Pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Michel Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey singly and together have worked with nearly every important Free player from Evan Parker to Joe McPhee; and also perform as a trio. Considering that Perelman has played frequently with each one in duo, trio or quartet formations, there’s never a question of him directing the improvisations with anything but invention. Every player contributes equally to each sequence.
For instance, “Panem Et Circenses Part 2” is based on rich tremolos from Shipp which use captivating arpeggio runs to create a context for the saxophonist’s tongue-twisting vibrations and low-key snorts. Meanwhile the linear shape of the piece is maintained by carefully placed drum bops and swaying, methodical double bass runs. In contrast, Bisio’s double-stopping bass fiddle holds the bottom on “Panem Et Circenses Part 1” as the saxophonist’s squeaking altissimo injects exhilarating freshness to the piece.
Moreover while Perelman’s links to the standard (Free) Jazz tradition may be more tenuous than Grencsó’s they’re incontestably present. When he and Shipp slide from the polyphonic tremolos keyboard work plus abstract pressurized bites to a variant on a swing line on the give-away title “Big Band Swing”, you could be overhearing an afterhours meeting between Coleman Hawkins and Earl Hines.
Considering that this pseudo-homage soon opens up into the reflectively more abstract title tune, space is made for Bisio’s cello-like string tinctures and Dickey’s grounded plops to confirm these links. While there’s no chance that the bassist’s subsequent muscular runs or the saxophonist’s scatter-shot overblowing would be found on any Swing era recreation, the improvisations are similarly ingrained in, and logically connected to, Jazz.
Making individual accommodation to Jazz’s continual evolution by accepting Free Music as a tradition in an overt or subtle way, both the Perelman and the Grencsó quartets outline memorable statements.
Track Listing: Flat: 1. Branded/Megbélyegezve 2. Ivan's Childhood/Iván gyermekkora 3. Sugar Free/Cukormentes 4. Slow Street/Lassú utca 5. Indian in Hortobágy Indián a Hortobágyon 6. Dawn Caress/Hajnali ciróka 7. In the Csinálósi Forest/Csinálósi erdőn 8 Winding Farewell/ Kacskaringós búcs
Personnel: Flat: István Grencsó (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and flute); Máté Pozsár (piano); Róbert Benkő (bass) and Szilveszter Miklós (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Edge: 1. Desert Flower 2. Panem Et Circenses Part 1 3. Crystal Clear 4. Panem Et Circenses Part 2 5. Latin Vibes 6. Petals or Thorns? 7. Big Band Swing 8. The Other Edge
Personnel: Edge: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (piano); Michel Bisio (bass) and Whit Dickey (drums)