The OxJaMS Trio

Suite of Dreams
SLAM 330

Trolley Bus

Buiten Dienst

No Label No #

Although Jazz’s essence isn’t completely rhythmically based, the idea of putting together a drums-free ensemble is still uncommon, without considerable advanced forethought. This is proven on these releases by European trios of reeds, piano and double bass, whose experiments result in widely different, though equally appealing, sounds. Like newer, smaller computers with fewer parts, tracks from the younger Amsterdam-based Trolley combo seem more motivated, especially in Free Jazz territory. Whereas the Oxford, UK-based OxJaMS trio like an older processer, chugs along most convincingly when the equivalent of an earlier operating system, that is Jazz structures, are attained.

Post modern in orientation like many other Dutch assemblages Trolley Bus adds tinctures of Rock, so-called classical and Swing sounds to the tracks named after nine of the city’s streetcar lines with the generic tile of Buiten Dienst or “off duty”. Dutch pianist Nora Mulder is classically trained, as are the other trio members. However double bassist Renato Ferreira and Yedo Gibson, who here plays baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, French horn, helicon, frula, trombone and bass clarinet here are both from São Paulo, and both play in the Royal Improvisers Orchestra. The horn man is also a part of the Jazz-Rock ensemble Naked Wolf. Rock inflections are at a minimum here, but without percussion, Ferreira spends so much time slapping out a powerful bass line that he could certainly be in the forefront if a Slam Stewart/Major Holley revival is ever in the cards. What this means in practice is that Ferreira provides the connective ostinato, leaving space free on tunes such as “lijn 9 and “lijn 10” for Gibson’s reeds to assert the human element. On “lijn 10” the horn player produces what could be the cry of a colicky baby coupled with throaty growls; while non-English verbal mutterings coexist alongside diamond-hard note cracks on the first. The bassist also extends his percussiveness on “lijn 7” by smacking mallets against the strings. Like the squadrons of an advancing army, the three create an exhilarating free-flowing power play when they coalesce into an exhilarating battle royal of sul ponticello and portamento bull fiddle shuffles, abrasive plucks on inner piano strings plus brassy French horn snorts or dramatic bass clarinet tongue slaps and slurps on “lijn 4”.

Expressing the calm finality of a completed journey, “lijn 11” bring the trolley to the terminal with a multiphonic individualized declaration. Before settling into a satisfying, tone-melding finale, thematic conclusion seems to consist of all three banging on wood, squeaking plastic stuffed animals for maximum resonance and sounding glockenspiel-like tones.

In contrast, the OxJaMS Trio confines itself with shifting between Free Improv and Free Jazz concerns, as if it’s a computer running early word processing software on the most recent OS programming update. Veterans of many ensembles, and the house band of the ongoing series at Oxford’s Holywell Music Room since 2005, the members of Suite of Dreams are also multi-instrumentalists – Steve Kershaw plays double bass and electronics; Richard Leigh Harris piano and keyboards; and George Haslam is featured on baritone saxophone, clarinet and tarogato. But attempting to excel at many tasks simultaneously is like moving too quickly between only slightly compatible computer programs. Meantime, for variety, the three further divide the 10 tracks into trios, duos and solos.

Most distinctive of the reeds, the Hungarian tarogato’s tart tone comes to the fore on “Easy on the Poppadoms” in trio form, and “Dancing Folk” with only the reedist and bassist involved. Kershaw’s bass-string pops make the latter the CD’s most percussive track while a curious bagpipe-like tremolo – probably helped by electronics – is added to the reed snarls. Clashing and cascading processing gives a similar distinctiveness to the former as Haslam’s story-telling altissimo trill drift through this perfect storm. Meanwhile, Leigh Harris’ work is outstanding on “Tenebrae (i.m. Stan Tracey)”, where he captures the tough Mingusian thrust and the flowery formalism of the late British pianist.

These sequences confirm solo identities, but when other concepts are adjoined, the result borders on Apple-PC discordance. For instance the meaning of menacing an inner keyboard punks and reed bites on “Haunted Spaces” is not altogether clear; while other tracks try to replicate outer space-like explorations that are remain tonal – via a high-pitched, moderato clarinet blowing – as well as dissonant. Around it electronic blats, splintering string squeezes and cumulative wiggling oscillations are heard. Recorded in the order in which it was played, with no overdubbing, the program becomes progressively more mainstream and serene as it unrolls. In fact, the final title track is framed by Haslam swelling a yearning ballad motif from the lowest parts of his baritone, as the bassist’s and keyboardist’s buzzes, spills and vibrations accompany him.

Drums aren’t missed on either of these trio outings, since each ensemble has brainstormed a distinctive method in which to express musical ideas. But when comparing the two, consistency wins out.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Buiten: 1. lijn 1 2. lijn 2 3. lijn 3 4. lijn 4 5. lijn 9 6. lijn 6 7. lijn 7 8. lijn 10 9. lijn 11

Personnel: Buiten: Yedo Gibson (baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, French horn, helicon, frula, trombone and bass clarinet); Nora Mulder (piano) and Renato Ferreira (bass)

Track Listing: Suite: 1. Sostenuto 2. Haunted Spaces 3. Under a Different Sky 4. Easy on the Poppadoms 5. Dancing Folk 6. Tenebrae (i.m. Stan Tracey) 7. Dreaming in Soires 8. Somethingology 9. Déjà-Vu 10. Suite Dreams

Personnel: Suite: George Haslam (baritone saxophone, clarinet and tarogato); Richard Leigh Harris (piano and keyboards) and Steve Kershaw (bass and electronics)