January 6, 2016
Steel Bridge Trio
Relay Recordings 011
October Music Vol. 1: 7 Compositions for Duet
Relay Recordings 009
Relay Recordings 010
By Ken Waxman
Quietly – well as quiet as a drummer can be – and consistently, Chicago-based percussionist Tim Daisy has over the past decade established himself as one of jazz’s go-to players. Besides ongoing partnerships with the likes of reedists Dave Rempis mostly in a duo and Ken Vandermark in small and large ensembles, Daisy’s discs showcase his own bands playing his compositions which range from the raucous to the refined. Like a screenwriter equally proficient at penning action thrillers and character-driven dramas, the drummer proficiently showcases particular genres on each of these releases.
Seconded by fellow Chicagoans clarinetist James Falzone and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, Vox Arcana could be termed an excursion into improvisatory chamber music, but with none of the solemnity associated with the term. In fact, Vox Arcan’s blend of reed flutter tonguing, sympathetic string-stopping and marimba shimmers gives all six pieces a breezy fluid tone. Like someone who excels at both sprinting and long-distance running, Daisy moves between the wooden bars and the full kit with equal skill. A perfect instance of this is on “The Mad Dance”. Invested with a Caribbean lilt via drum patterns, Daisy’s additional mallet wizardry coupled with puckered trills from Falzone navigate the tropical-storm-like menace of the cellist’s staccato processing. What emerges is a track invigorated with the contentment that can result from a refreshing tropical storm. In stark contrast “Objects” is the CD’s most intense track. What initially appears as if it’s going to be terpsichorean-styled theme swiftly turns darker, surprisingly enough through the pseudo-thunder and lightning whipped up by Falzone and Lonberg-Holm. Luckily it too is resolved with a triple-paced conclusion that’s durable without being disheartening.
This three-pronged toughness grows prodigiously on the Bay-area recorded Different Clocks. That’s because Daisy’s playing partners are local bassist Safa Shokrai, who works in avant-rock bands and does film-scoring and transplanted Windy City-ite Aram Shelton on alto saxophone and bass clarinet. Shelton’s astringent Ornette Coleman-like alto saxophone slurs and glottal bass clarinet runs easily negate any clichés about passive West Coast Jazz. Steadfast, Shokrai’s triple-stopping and sentry-like walking add to the CD’s seriousness. That’s seriousness not sluggishness though, since none of the of the CD’s six performances plod. Instead the Steel Bridge Trio excels in high-energy contemporary improvisations which frequently gleam like newly scrubbed windows. Bracing as a San Francisco morning, tunes such as “Montrose” and “Some See Hope” glide with feline-like grace, as Shelton’s reed and Daisy’s vibe patterns exhilarate by amplifying each other’s quick-paced narratives. Additionally, “Scraps” confirms the trio’s links to earlier, Chicago-birthed free jazz forms. Shelton’s raggedly guttural bass clarinet explorations have an Anthony Braxton-like air to them; Shokrai’s string-shaking power could relate to Fred Hopkins; while Daisy’s temple-bell like tinkling and the jangling hubbub created by other parts of his kit, broadens the music’s appeal while recalling the AACM preference for “little instruments”. Like most AACM compositions too, no matter how atonal the tunes get, the trio ensures that the finale slides back to the head with peanut butter-like smoothness. For instance a track such as “In Times Like Those” – a giveaway title – notable for Shelton’s hiccupping alto saxophone jumps, includes a repeated motif that keeps it highly focused and swinging.
Like a novelist’s collection of short stories published in book form, October Music Vol. 1: 7 Compositions for Duet is a compendium of tracks that match Daisy’s drums or marimba with seven of his contemporaries’ instruments. Besides Falzone and Rempis, his associates are bassoonist Katherine Young, cornetist Josh Berman, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, pianist Marc Riordan and violist Jen Clare Paulson. Emphasizing the drum’s sympathetic percussiveness and the marimba’s lyrical affirmation, Daisy cycles through several styles. “Writers” for instance is the most jazz-like, with Riordan’s sharpened keyboard feints angling towards the stratosphere, while Daisy’s supple drumming keeps the improvisations grounded, as Frankie Dunlop did in Thelonious Monk’s quartet. Berman’s limber blasts, that sprinkle bugle-like fanfares and brassy smears amid his solos like paprika in a stew on “Painted”, are almost pre-modern. Responding to that, Daisy’s Baby Dodds-like rolls appear to play in cheerful empathy. On the other hand Young’s husky reed rasping and Paulson’s studied string shuffles are in thrall to the so-called classical notated world. Without mocking their earnestness, Daisy strips out any lingering romanticism by using the marimba’s hard wooden-bar pops. Metaphorically moving from the Impressionist wing to the Abstract art wing of this sound museum, the percussionist finds that pulsating rhythmic emphasis counters any rugged avant-garde excesses implicit in Rempis’ tough glossolalia and Adasiewicz’s multi-mallet powerhouse clanging.
Versatility and inventiveness are the watchwords of a mature percussionist like Daisy. In a group, he may march to his own drum beat, but he encourages others’ contributions in every performance.
Tracks: Caro’s: Assembly; Caro’s Song; Silver Light; Objects; Contained; The Mad Dance
Personnel: Caro’s: James Falzone: clarinet; Fred Lonberg-Holm : cello, electronics; Tim Daisy: marimba, radio, percussion
Personnel: Different: Aram Shelton: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Safa Shokrai: bass; Tim Daisy: vibraphone, drums
Tracks: Different: Different Clocks; Montrose; Scraps; Some See Hope; In Times Like Those; Stone Trees
Tracks: October: For Jay; Roscoe St.; Some Birds; Writers; Near A Pond; For Lowell; Painted
Personnel: October: Tim Daisy: drums, marimba, radio; plus James Falzone: clarinet [track 1]; Dave Rempis: baritone saxophone [track 2]; Katherine Young: bassoon [track 3]; Marc Riordan: piano [track 4]; Jen Clare Paulson: viola [track 5]; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone [track 6]; Josh Berman: cornet [track 7]
—For The New York City Jazz Record January 2016