Battle Trance

Palace of Wind
New Amsterdam NWAM058

Matt Nelson

Lower Bottoms

Tubapede Records TB 03

By Ken Waxman

Picking up on the freedom that’s available as a fellow traveler in raucous indie-rock bands, tenor saxophonist Matt Nelson strives to create comparable abstract amplified sounds for his saxophone. Lower Bottoms, where he hooks up his instrument with guitar effects pedals and amplifier feedback showcases his solo ideas. Palace of Winds, where he performs as part of Travis Laplante’s four tenor saxophone ensemble outlines how his acoustic approach can be integrated into a group creation.

On his solo set, Nelson uses the ancillary equipment to inflate the solo saxophone’s range. Pedals and amplifier additions mean that unaccented tones can be held for long periods during these improvisations, while close-to-mike recording emphasizes the metal and cork properties of a saxophone. Chalumeau tones appear to bounce through the air as early as “Sunk Cost”, while flattement and smears work up to affiliated sheets of sound. Eventually attaining overall stridency, the narrative includes mellow detours, as the exposition, which pans from one side of the listening space to the other, swells to include bagpipe-like respiration as well as percussive crunches. Other techniques such as circular breathing and fanciful bomb-detonation-resembling sonic explosions are part of other tracks. While tremolo blowing propels enough multiphonics so that it appears that more than one reed is in play, Nelson’s unique configuration also allows him to inflate or negate the expected saxophone sounds of his instrument. “Sworn Enemies” for example, unites pedal processing delays with the metal percussion properties of the horn to such an extent that the resulting dissonant tones could be from any blown source. This electro-acoustic mutation remains until a reed exposition showcasing key percussion finally reanimates and confirms the instrument’s identity.

There’s no question that saxophones are being played by Battle Trance; the question is how many. Leader Travis Laplante, also a member of the Little Women band, wrote his three-part composition so that all the players – Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner are the other reedists – become interlocking parts of one imaginary giant tenor saxophone. Having taught the piece orally to the other players, Laplante is most concerned with underlying textural bonding. With no single tone predominating, the few solo sequences are usually cocooned within organ-like tremolos from the remaining reeds. All parts of the saxophones are constantly in play with the narrative switching from barely audible whispers to fortissimo crescendos. Meanwhile specific passages concentrate on the highest alto-like register of the saxophones; others wallow in guttural, bass saxophone-pitched lowing.

With the ever-evolving theme constantly being deconstructed and rebuilt, impressionistic sequences succeed ferocious blow-outs and vice-versa, although intricate, overlapping unison playing is more prominent. Eventually “Palace of Winds” reaches a climax in the final minutes of the third and lengthiest section as stentorian drones give way to a wispy reed airiness that deliberately sustains the layered horns’ lockstep harmonies.

Whether you prefer your reed exploration in single or multiple doses, these discs will impress with their audaciousness while introducing more saxophone innovators.

Tracks: Palace: Palace of Wind 1; Palace of Wind 2; Palace of Wind 3

Personnel: Palace: Travis Laplante, Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner, Patrick Breiner: tenor saxophones

Tracks: Lower: Sunk Cost; Sworn Enemies; Motor Mouth; To Believe In What

Personnel: Lower: Matt Nelson: tenor saxophone, amplifier and pedals

—For The New York City Jazz Record December 2014