Joseph Bowie-Oliver Lake

Live at ‘A Space’ 1976
Sackville SK 2010

By Ken Waxman

Featuring a masterful series of duets by alto saxophonist/flutist Oliver Lake and trombonist Joseph Bowie, this five-track reissue captures two accomplished improvisers at their most adventurous and celebrates an epoch when Toronto’s reputation as a major haven for experimental music was being established.

Although the two would go on to make more accessible sessions with jazz-funk bands like Jump Up and Defunkt, the surprise in hindsight is how accessible some of these sounds actually are. While there are enough extended techniques involving wailing split tones, tongue slaps and percussion plus deep-in-the-throat snorts and guffaws from both horn players, sonic unity is paramount. A track like “Orange Butterflies”, for instance, may set up opposing flute peeps and brass snorts as if they’re going to recall the unpleasant meeting of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, but these untrammeled tremors eventually cease, replaced by tones that bond the two in lockstep unity. Another strategy, summarily demonstrated on “After Assistance” is how one horn produces a solid continuum upon which the other is free to improvise, with the two subsequently switching roles with the coordinated skill of paired ballroom dancers. Bowie’s prestidigitations are most aptly demonstrated on “A Space Rontoto” when slide motions are used to taper his usual gutbucket action into a mere sound thread as if strained through a sieve. Meanwhile Lake’s wobbling, lowing and fluttering multiphonic variations on “Zaki” don’t preclude him cycling back to its theme in tandem with Bowie as the finale.

-For The Whole Note September 2017