Yoni Kretzmer

Five
Out Now ONR 026

Perhaps channeling some form of numerology, Israeli tenor saxophonist Yonni Kretzmer has crafted another in his collection of Free Jazz showpiece by exploring the validity of a multi-horn ensemble. Whether the title refers to the number of players or number of compositions – all by the saxophonist – like the faint outlines of an earlier edifice on an adjacent building’s aging wall the integer also brings up memories of The New York Contemporary Five (NYC5).

That rugged early 1960s band had a personal similar to this one that, besides the Brooklyn-based Kretzmer, also featured German-born cornetist Thomas Heberer plus bassist Max Johnson, drummer Chad Taylor and trombonist Steve Swell. Swell whose superlative command of all aspects of his horn makes him the first among equals when it comes to solo work, suggest another antecedent to the Kretzmer combo, bands in which trombonist Roswell Rudd was paired with one or the other of the NYC5’s saxophonists: John Tchicai or Archie Shepp. Just because they’re working in a closely related style, though, that doesn’t make the YK5 a NYC5-clone any more than the Coen Brothers are Stanley Kramer because they toil in the same medium.

However one can’t help noticing that the tenor saxophonist does bring a craggy control of reed smears and altissimo extensions to his playing inherited from the likes of Shepp and John Coltrane. But composition-wise Five is more of an inter-related suite than the usual small group blow-out of the 1960s. The organization of harmonized cornet lines angled beside the other two horns on the introductory “July 19” for instance is revived in the penultimate moments of the final “For DC” until processional flutter tonguing steadies the ending.

Otherwise the compositional architecture is unique with most sequences based around horns improvising in stacked triple counterpoint, with Swell’s tones positioned on top of the pyramid. Cycling through duple meters, riffs and ruffs that salute Philly Joe Jones’ time sense as well as Milford Graves’ inventiveness in his playing, Taylor is a full partner. It’s the same with Johnson, who is usually glued to a walking bass line as if he’s a technician making theatrical scenery appear real, so as to ground the actors’ flights of rhetorical fancy. His one indulgence is a series of arpeggiated tangs he uses to signal the end of the cacophonous exposition on “For DC”. As for the horns, like actors equally competent at comedy or tragedy, their output sweeps from melodious story-telling to growling hyper-technical polyphony. Heberer can limn a ballad with only rhythm accompaniment as on “Quintet II”, but has the chops and audacity to face off with Swell a capella on “Feb 23” matching the other brass player in vigor and gall even as Swell in turn growls out his response and the cornetist turns to high-pitched peeps.

Overall each tune swings out to allow every player to contribute the maximum color as if it was a group poster project. Understanding of each other’s skills, one by one, points are made without individual excess. Be advised this CD is no exercise in New Thing nostalgia, but an up-to-the-minute take on free playing.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. July 19 2. Quintet I 3. Quintet II 4. Feb 23 5. For DC

Personnel: Thomas Heberer (cornet); Steve Swell (trombone); Yoni Kretzmer (tenor saxophone); Max Johnson (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)