Luc Ex’ Assemblée

Luc Ex’ Assemblée
Red Note RH 19

By Ken Waxman

Although many of Dutch bassist Luc Ex’s affiliations have been with rock-jazz oriented groups Assemblée is an unabashed jazz project, for which he composed a set of distinctive originals. The rhythmic power he displayed in bands such The Ex and 4Walls is still present, but performances on this vibrant CD are given added heft by featuring American drummer Hamid Drake, the closest thing to a percussion insurance policy that exists. Fellow Netherlander Ab Baars and German Ingrid Laubrock complete the line-up on reeds. Even though each mostly plays tenor saxophone, there’s no emulation of the dueling tenor tradition embedded in hard bop or free jazz.

Instead, Laubrock and Baars, both of whom have put in time as sidefolk and band leaders in many contexts, work out equitable responses to Ex’s lines that cunningly promote individual expression. Despite verbose titles “The Unexpected Death of a Fortune Teller” and “When the Demiurge Looks in the Mirror”, for instance, the creations are in reality relaxed lopes, where unison reed breaths are moved along chromatically and almost effortlessly by Ex’s ringing string strokes and Drake’s open backbeat. When, on the other hand, the horns crack, shave and otherwise shatter their phrases into tiny pieces, as on “Expanding for Aye” or the final “Mutated Square Dance”, sparse rhythmic undertones from repeated bass-string motifs and cymbal pops subtly ripen into straightforward grooves. Eventually each player’s part locks into place, creating moderate and moving endings that are as musically arousing as they are absolute.

When the reedists are given their heads during the tunes’ heads, as on the almost fully deconstructed “The Road”, and when Baars brings out his shakuhachi and Laubrock her soprano saxophone on “Primates Travel by Train”, solid jazz time sense is still asserted. The cornucopia of reed vibration on the first piece quickens into a steady pulse. Meanwhile the wind whistles and sighs of the second are railroaded into a 21st Century variation of classic locomotive-reflecting rhythmic swing when Ex and Drake finally joins the action.

Unfazed by labels and nationalities, Ex has assembled an exemplary quartet whose free music variant of rhythmic swing deserves more exposure.

Tracks: L’Assemblage; The Unexpected Death of a Fortune Teller; Zajj Siht SI; Lost Sol; When the Demiurge Looks in the Mirror; Expanding for Aye; Primates Travel by Train; The Road; Mutated Square Dance

Personnel: Ab Baars (tenor saxophone and shakuhachi); Ingrid Laubrock (soprano and tenor saxophones); Luc Ex (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums)

—For The New York City Jazz Record January 2015