Carlo Costa Quartet

Neither Nor Records n/n 001

Basement Research

Hat And Shoes

Between The Lines BTLCHR 71238

Having paid his dues in experimental – and other – music(s) since the mid-1970s, New York-based trombonist Steve Swell has become an eclectic, respected commodity in both North America and Europe. While this means that Swell is as likely to be gigging with Peter Brötzmann as Rob Brown, it also pinpoints the dissolving differences between so-called American and so-called European free music

Recorded in New York by four of its residents, Sediment still has the dispassionate feel of contemporary lower-case Continental session(s). Hat And Shoes on the other hand was recorded by a majority European quintet in Switzerland. However the blends and rhythms in the seven compositions by Berlin-based reedist Gebhard Ullmann have an unabashed American leaning. Globalization and mobility are no doubt responsible for this situation.

Sediment’s six group compositions are designed to emphasize the graduate display of timbres, This is a group decision which in itself has little do with the fact that drummer Carlo Costa is a native of Rome; saxophonist Jonathan Moritz was born in Tehran, while bassist Sean Li and Swell hail from the U.S. By inclination and melding of the lower-pitches, Basement Research has a Mingus-like cast, filtered through European sensibility. Besides Ullmann, the band is filled out by British baritone saxophonist Julian Argüelles, French-German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper plus Americans, drummer Gerald Cleaver and Swell.

Ullmann likely didn’t set out to emulate Mingus composition, but with the harmonies implicit in the blend of tenor and baritone saxophone, plus trombone, he would have trouble avoiding it. Most of the time as well, the quintet operates with the same burning intensity Mingus’ Jazz Workshop – and The Jazz Messsengers – brought to their music. “Wo bitte geht's zu den Hackeschen Höfen?” may salute a local Berlin shopping spot, but the way Basement Research plays it the place must have the intensity of New York’s Times Square at noon and New Orleans’ French Quarter at midnight. As he does most of time, Cleaver keeps the traffic flowing smoothly via cymbal cracks and rumbles. Meantime Ullmann slithers among the tourists pumping his horn textures; Niggenkemper contributes guitar like-plinks like a cap-on-the-ground street singer; meanwhile Swell moves his groove 360 degrees away from the others. Strolling as the others bustle, he calls forth tones that are alphorn-clear, gutbucket deep and even conveyor belt-like regular.

Because of the number of tempo, pitch and volume changes on “Five”, the CD’s extended tour-de-force, overt Mingus references do creep in however, It’s very likely a “Good Bye Pork Pie Hat” lick and some others from the Chazz canon that inhabit the piece, but then so do echoes of “Fascinating Rhythm” at least once the bass-and-drum quicken to full cruising speed. The drummer’s relaxed rumbles and quick asides are completely in the American tradition and contrast glaringly to the way Costa approaches percussion on Sediment. As for “Five” it reaches it’s swinging zenith as Ullmann’s free-form breaks and bites are backed by steady riffing from the other horns.

Not that the saxophonist’s compositional vision is limited to Mingus and Berlin either. Much closer to San Francisco Bay than the Rhine, “Gulf of Berlin” gets its power from double stopping bass runs, though the theme is related to the harmonic criss-crossing of horn parts that 50 years ago could have been played by Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan and Bob Brookmeyer. Meanwhile “Trinidad Walk” bursts into a lumbering promenade that could have resulted from the entire New Testament Count Basie band strolling through the Caribbean. If Hat and Shoes does have an overtly so-called Europeanized track though, than it’s “Blue Trees And Related Objects”. Pastel strokes from the two reed players tenuously brush against one another until moderato bass and drum lines click in mid-way through. From then on tactile drum affirmations complement slurping baritone sax shading.

Throughout Sediment the quartet operates with half the exertion and half the velocity of the quintet on the other CD. If Ullman’s crew is involved in a headlong rush forward, flinging any barriers out of their way, then the other quartet is like committed sonic lab technicians investigating every timbre before it’s sounded. Swell is similarly transformed. Soloing in a way that could relate to the work of Kid Ory on one hand and JJ Johnson on the other, Sediment also defines his role as a micro-tonal sound explorer, but never falling into nano-minimalism favored by some Austrian trombone players.

Inelegantly titled, “Bloat” is probably most indicative of the quartet’s aims. It’s built on the intersection of relaxed burbles from Swell and elongated timbres from Moritz. Brief drum pop and string strums help move the piece forward, finally culminating in the saxophonist’s chitterling peeps and the trombonist’s telepathic slurs completed by a single atmospheric pop from the drummer. Adopting a sort of (Morton) Feldmanesque anticipated delay, some of the other tracks appear to modify before fully outlining an exposition. That means something like “Thaw” appears to move past what could have been a percussive climax of tom-tom thumps and trombone hiccups without attaining it. Yet while the saxophone’s thin squeal, plunger brass tones and distracted bell ringing relate back to the foreshortened introduction, momentum is lost.

Cohesion picks up as the sequences wind down. On “Soak” wooden block clip-clop and foil shaking from the percussionist, move upwards alongside reed bites, brass slurs and Ali’s string stropping and sawing to reach a climax of contrapuntal interaction before fading away. And on the final “Molder” it feels as if all the elements swimming around in the group’s Petri dish are starting to germinate. Buzzes from mouthpieces removed from horns mixed with thin scrapes from slashed strings and cymbals bumps predominate until an interactive warbling whistle is reached. It’s a defining summation of all that has gone before.

Although the combos here have different aims and methodologies, their chief point of congruence is Swell, who manages to inhabit two different roles. Those interested in go-for-broke swinging Jazz will head towards Hat and Shoes. Those who have the patience to follow how a brand new musical affiliation is groping towards a novel identity should look into Sediment. Considering the talent involved, rewards will accrue from both.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sediment: 1. Wither 2. Pulverize 3. Thaw 4. Bloat 5. Soak 6. Molder

Personnel: Sediment: Steve Swell (trombone); Jonathan Moritz (tenor and soprano saxophones); Sean Ali (bass) and Carlo Costa (percussion)

Track Listing: Hat: 1. Trinidad Walk 2. Wo bitte geht's zu den Hackeschen Höfen? 3. Flutist with Hat And Shoe 4. Don't Touch My Music 5. Five 6. Blue Trees And Related Objects 7. Gulf of Berlin

Personnel: Hat: Steve Swell (trombone); Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Julian Argüelles (baritone saxophone); Pascal Niggenkemper (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)