Daniel Carter/Federico Ughi

Extra Room Volume 1 and Volume 2
577 Records 5786

Long-time soldiers in the New York Free Jazz trenches, multi-instrumentalist. Daniel Carter and drummer Federico Ughi, continue elaborating their close, nearly 15-year musical association with a new studio plus an extra album available in digital form. Although this may be a canny way to offer more of the duo’s intricately abstruse improvisations to those in the know, the sheer expanse of the Extra Room(s) may work against the concept.

Taken together the 19 selections are mostly mid-tempo minimal improvisations. There are frequent instances of how well Ughi’s cerebral and appropriately non-clamorous rhythms operate alongside Carter’s multi-dexterous skills, as the latter moves from saxophones to trumpet to piano, often within the same track. However much like an all-you-can-eat buffet, abundance can overcome achievement, even if individual dishes and/or courses are delicious on their own. Although some of the best tracks on Volume 2 may have made a conventional CD too lengthy, some of them are more interesting than what’s heard on Volume 1 and vice versa. By making all the music available, its virtues are stretched a little too thin.

Highpoints on both sets are those tracks where Carter gets to display his hitherto under-exposed piano prowess. For years in bands with the likes of William Parker and Sabir Mateen he has made his mark as a sophisticated Free Jazz horn player. Yet tracks such as “Extra Room” on Volume 1 or the slyly titled “Working a Double” on Volume 2 reveal a player whose keyboard smarts are as advanced as his horn playing. Surprisingly mellow, the first tune centres around exhilarating tones pedal-pushed from the piano bottom, backed by quiet rumbles from Ughi. The percussionist’s liberating connective skills are then put to the test as he moderates Carter’s turn to spacey, skyscraper-high Aylerian shrieks. On “Working a Double” Carter’s pianism moves from Cecil Taylor-like dynamic density to between-the-crack thematic searches only to end in splashy player-piano-like speed – and this is after exposing the theme via crying flute playing. A related airy flute line appears on “Light it Up, Watch it Burn” followed by an equally smooth, but compressed trumpet slurs, while the Ughi counters with appropriately low-key, practically lo-fi cadenced drumming.

Ughi’s dexterity in providing thicker, harder rhythms to offset Carter’s flutter-tongued actions is showcased on Volume 1’s “New Shoes”, while on Volume 2’s “Over Easy” what he does is anything but easy, constructing proper patterns for Carter’s method actor-like ability to adopt different playing personas for each of his instruments. Ughi’s decisive rattles and pumps help propel Carter’s grating, reed-biting sax tones into more moderated quivers; while a subdued shuffle beat steadies the slashing chromatic chords Carter pulls from the piano as if he was a restless gold miner exposing every stray musical nugget he could find. The drummer’s tolling bell-like tones also help Carters chalumeau clarinet tones turn to succinct chromatic motions on Volume 2’s “By the Book”. Unfortunately many of these highlights are subverted by too much mid-tempo work which seems to call out for third-party intervention to graft onto it conviviality or at least a higher form of liveliness.

That’s the frustration engendered by these two volumes. Although there is plenty of music that should be welcomed by those familiar with the work of Ughi, Carter or both together, the package could have been so much stronger. Leaving the so-called bonus material as out-takes and strengthening the released disc with more elevated improvisations would have made Extra Room a better showpiece. Trying to turn a well-constructed sonic bachelor apartment by building it to two-bedroom size doesn’t make sense musically or structurally.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. It’s Got To Be Better Outside 2. Extra Room 3. Gypsy Driver 4. Sweat It Out 5. Chasing the Dream 6. Light it Up, Watch it Burn 7. New Shoes 8. Taking Our Time 9. Expansion CD2: 1. Off The Clock 2. The Bouncer 3. Over Easy 4. The Gala 5. The Question Mark 6. Working a Double 7. Taking the Long Road 8. Ridin’ the Green Lights 9. By the Book 10. It’s Still Got to Be Better Outside

Personnel: Daniel Carter (alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet flute, trumpet, piano) and Federico Ughi (drums)