Henrik Pultz Melbye

Trio
No Label No #

Gunwale

Polynya

Aerophonic AR -011

Saxophone, double bass and drums has become as common a configuration in the Free (ish) Jazz realm as piano-double bass and guitar are in mainstream Jazz circles. With literally thousands of session created that way, musicians have to struggle to be original. Like automakers who annually tinker with the features of their cars without changing too radically both these groups are made up of increment lists

After participating in many ensembles with his peers, established saxophonist Dave Rempis recently organized Gunwale as his new working group with two fellow Chicagoans of slightly later vintage: Dutch native and bassist Albert Wildeman and percussion Ryan Packard, whose affiliations are mostly with the city’s notated community. Polynya, defined as a stretch of open water surrounded by ice, features three compositions which extend the Free Jazz concept. Packard’s juddering electronics become a major part of the interface made livelier as the reedist moves among alto, tenor and baritone saxophones.

Anything but melancholy Danes, the three Copenhagen-based players on the other CD us the session’s seven tracks to create a more concentrated if ultimately more habituated Energy Music rendition. Like a well-trained platoon, the three – tenor saxophonist Henrik Pultz Melbye, bassist Casper Nyvang Rask and drummer Anders Vestergaard – adhere closely to one vision, probably since all three have affiliated experience in many other groups. There are even points such as on “Ud over Stepperne” when like Harpo and Groucho Marx’s mirror scene in Duck Soup the bassist and saxophonist explicitly reflect each other’s actions. Modified Aylerian screams are met by sizzling bass thumps, as the theme is pureed into easily digestible bits. While most of the tunes rappel by at a resounding clip, “Bal” confirms that the trio knows what to do with a ballad. Scrappy rather than soppy, the throbbing double bass line and slurry reed gasps suggest the proverbial tough guy with a heart of gold. Not to be neglected, Vestergaard does his part producing solid time-keeping or irregular beats as needed. Notwithstanding a final track which is about 90% snarl and 10% sweetness, this light-darkness shift is maintained throughout. “Halli Hallo” is the stand-out however, giving Melbye the chance to express himself through deepened peeps and flutter-tonguing strategies from his tenor saxophone. While mostly retiring to the background the others like potent sous-chefs keep the pot boiling behind the horn exploration with Rask’s bass twangs almost become a hornpipe melody and Vestergaard percussion veering away from straight time, with suggestions of other beats from Reggae to Balkan.

Packard’s contributions to Polynya are more pronounced, since like a hot rodder who has just souped up an older model car, it’s his electronic undertow which distinguishes the CD’s three tracks from more acoustic – and expected – trio performances. Recorded early in the band’s career the program is as if the pit mechanics are taking the newly embellished car engine for a around the track: smooth driving is yet to be refined. That’s why “Bevel” the shortest track – but still 15½ minutes long – appears most complete. Here the signal-processed drone is met by woody sul ponticello stropping from Wildeman’s strings and initially recumbent timbres from Rempis. Eventually like the aftermath of a cork popping from a bottle, the saxophonist splashes out freak note and elevated screeches to up the dramatic ferment. Substituting economy for excess is why “Wire”, the almost 39¼ -minute lead-off track is inconsistent. The War and Peace-sized rather than the novella version of the music, Packard affixes over-eager percussion thuds and cymbal tone eruptions in an attempt to enliven the electronic drones. In a similar fashion Wildeman’s pulse is so sinewy that it appears as if he’s bisecting a tree trunk rather than the instrument from which it was hewn. As for the saxophonist, his puffing vibrations and winnowing timbres repeatedly expelled altissimo add more frenzy than freedom. However the ending suggests what will likely appear in the future as part of a measured showdown between crunching electronic wave forms and irregular reed vibrations. Only slightly more linear, the final nearly 18½-minute “Linear” gives space to more unbridled reed honking, knife-thrusts on lumber-thick strings and buttressed drum beats. There are more melodic approaches in some sequences which resemble a few Ornette Coleman themes, with Rempis creating a broken near-flute-timbred line. In terms of electrified Free Jazz Polynya has some fine moments but a more significant statement will perhaps show up next time out. With admittedly more classic goals, Melbye and associates have produced a more comprehensive program.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Polynya: 1. Wire 2. Bevel 3. Liner

Personnel: Polynya: Dave Rempis (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Albert Wildeman (bass) and Ryan Packard (percussion and electronics)

Track Listing: Trio 1. Dagliglivets oase 2. Ud over Stepperne 3. Bal 4. Mitä 5.Tungt 6. Halli Hallo 7. Marskandiser

Personnel: Trio: Henrik Pultz Melbye (tenor saxophone); Casper Nyvang Rask (bass) and Anders Vestergaard (drums)