Chats With The Real McCoy
Creative Sources CS 257 CD

Max Johnson

The Invisible Trio

Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 438

Starker representations of the variances between Free Jazz and Free Music probably couldn’t be presented than comparing these low-key trio sessions. Although both discs are 40-odd-minutes in length, feature a brass player, double bassist and drummer performing eight originals, confusing one with the other would be like mixing up Kid Ory and Kidd Jordan. Both methods are equally valid of course.

In the classic Jazz tradition, though somewhat unusual by featuring a cornet as the only horn, The Invisible Trio is a vehicle for the compositions of bassist Max Johnson which usually unfold with a Boppish lilt. A professional from an early age, Johnson works with other New York downtowners like saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and violist Mat Maneri. Cornetist Kirk Knuffle plays with other groups, most notably Ideal Bread; while Israeli-born drummer Ziv Ravitz has worked with everyone from Lee Konitz to Omer Avital. Demonstrating Free Music’s geographic reach, GLUE members are all Berliners, but each is from a different country. Trumpeter Tom Arthurs is British, bassist Miles Perkin, Canadian and percussionist Yorgos Dimitriadis, Greek.

The Real McCoy dialogue which the co-op trio specializes in is non-hierarchical to the nth degree. Understated pats from Dimitriadis’ cymbals and/or resilient pops on Perkins’ strings are as much in the foreground – which granted isn’t very upfront – as the bubbling and fluttering from Arthurs’ trumpet. The brass man, who works in more maximalist settings with the likes of Julie Sassoon and Benoît Delbecq, is seamlessly situated in GLUE. He is however unstuck enough from the others to offer tube-sourced guttural squawks or broken-phrase sputters when needed. For example the delicacy celebrated on “Washington Mint and Blushing Cherry” is a tasty confection that’s equal parts buzzing bass lines, capillary peeps and side drum clinks that tantalizing contrasts col legno string pops and wispy valve smears before fading away.

More vigorous, but never to be confused with a Jazz Messengers barn-burner, “Split Ink” finds Arthurs’ dissonant buzzing blending with Perkin’s rapid finger rubs until they’re almost indistinguishable. Only some off-side whistling, plunger tonguing and a potent clunk from Dimitriadis poke holes in the virtually flat-line improvisation. Also memorable is how easily the three can replicate a solid harmonium-like drone on “The Tragic Jester”, then just as eruditely break the murmur into asides with bent note brass sputters and guitar-like plucks.

Johnson’s bass is also easily able to pluck, walk and thump. Plus while The Invisible Trio goes out of its way to moderate its expression, compared to GLUE the other trio’s ethos is closer to the Jazz Messengers than AMM. For a start the bassist has the knack of composing originals lines that still sound familiar, such as “Bizza” and “A Pair of Glasses”. Each could easily have slipped out of the real book of any Bop band. The first depends on blustery tremolo from Knuffle and perfectly-in-control ruffs from Ravitz; while the second anchored by walking bass, gives the drummer a chance to demonstrate his solo talents with Chico Hamilton-like finesse and taste.

At the same time each of the players brings a laser-like focus to his improvising. That means that if the head is melodious or balladic as “The Pretzel” or the title tune, squeezed brass timbres are muted and insinuating bass lines are bowed. Yet as straightforward as the tune(s) may be, softness is never substituted for swing. By the final “the Golem” when Knuffle introduces sharpened trills and Johnson sul ponticello squeaks, the angles and upturns which characterize the theme fit perfectly with the other tunes. It also confirms that that a component of the trio members’ non-invisibility is their comfort in playing more than Bop and Chamber Jazz.

Free Music or Free Jazz, take your pick. Each session is worth scrutinizing.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Chats: 1. Fallen Lucifers 2. Washington Mint and Blushing Cherry 3. Chats with the Real McCoy 4. The Wrong Food Buy 5. She Is the Queenly Pearl 6. The Tragic Jester 7. Split Ink 8. Red Dawn and Blue Denim

Personnel: Chats: Tom Arthurs (trumpet); Miles Perkin (bass) and Yorgos Dimitriadis (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Invisible: 1. The Pretzel 2. Bizza 3. Held for Questioning 4. Don Wrinkles 5. The Invisible Trio 6. A Pair of Glasses 7. Moving Vehicle 8. The Golem

Personnel: Chats: Kirk Knuffle (cornet); Max Johnson (bass) and Ziv Ravitz (drums)