December 11, 2017
Dan Phillips Chicago Edge Ensemble
No label No #
Multiphonics Music MM003
Organized with identical instrumentation and recorded within a month of one another, these CDs are instances of two approaches to contemporary Jazz, New York and Chicago versions. Like eccentric mirror images of one another as well, each disc’s most notable players are a guitarist and a trombonist, with one player of either instrument taking the leadership role. Somehow though the compositions of a returning Chicagoan, guitarist Dan Phillips, matched with top-flight Windy City associates come across with more flight and individuality that the nine tunes composed by Manhattan trombonist Joe Fiedler.
This business-as-usual approach is a somewhat puzzling since Fiedler has over the past 13 years produced a bunch of exceptional trio discs. Here his trio, bassist Rob Jost, who has worked with everyone from Bjork and the Sesame Street Band and drummer Michael Sarin, whose c.v. includes stints with Mark Helias and Simon Nabatov, are joined by guitarist Pete McCann, who worked with leaders as different as Kenny Wheeler and Patti Austin; and saxophonist Jeff Lederer who has played with Matt Wilson and Kirk Knuffke. Meanwhile Decaying Orbit is led by the far-less-known guitarist Dan Phillips, currently lecturer in Guitar and Jazz Studies at Bangkok’s Silpakorn University, who has played with Gerald Wilson’s band. Visiting his Windy City hometown he recorded with local bassist Krzysztof Pabian, Hamid Drake, arguably the most in-demand percussionist in the world, former Ken Vandermark associate trombonist Jeb Bishop and long-time Free Jazz saxophonist Mars Williams.
Throughout Decaying Orbit the focus is on Bishop, whether joining with the guitarist or saxophonist is connective riffs or soloing. As early as “Attitude Adjustment”, the first cut, he propels a sort of Bob Brookmeyer-like futuristic mainstream perspective to his work. With his playing contributing to the layer-cake-like balance among the instruments, he livens up the title track by contrasting his reverberating plunger tones with Williams’ flutter tonguing, as backbeat drumming creates a sequence that calls on New Orleans color, Kansas City Swing and Eastern European dance in equal measures finally moving up the scale, alongside guitar flanges, to resolve the program. In contrast on “Bipolar Vortex” Bishop haltingly stretches the theme like a piece of taffy, without breaking it, accompanied by cymbal splashes and a bowed bass line. The ending is mass polyphony which brings unison horns and guitar coloration into the mix.
Phillips, who composed all the tunes, invests that track with patterns that range from low-pitched strums to surf-guitar-like bubbling. Wedded to a Blues tonality along with the rest of his Windy City confreres, on tracks such as “Bluster Buster” the guitarist shows that he’s also comfortable creating spacey (early) Frisell-like trebly echoes or clanking out circular patterns. Half-way between King Curtis and Albert Ayler, Williams provides riffs and obbligatos when needed. But in the midst of a rocker like “Not Here You Don't” built on guitar vamps, he can spew out stop-time staccato squeaks and honks with ease.
Although Lederer has been part of an Albert Ayler-styled combo elsewhere, throughout Like, Strange it appears that his presence and that of McCann orient Fiedler’s formerly sinewy and focused trio work towards the conventional. With the increase in combo size the obligation for round-robin solos appears to have been fixed as well. Overall much of the work falls into mainstream professionalism rather than nuanced textural elaboration. Like the other CD echoes of Bob Brookmeyer’s work with Jim Hall linger, but with West Coast Jazz-like Coolness. In a trio of tracks slotted in the session’s mid-point McCann has a tendency to unleash foot pedal pushed soul-psychedelic effects that could have wandered in from a mid-1970s Rotary Connection date. Saving grace is usually the trombonist’s plunger work as on “E.T. (For Eje Thelin)”, where he convincingly demonstrates that he can solo intelligently and comfortably at very high pitches. Fiedler’s flutter tones are also front and centre on “Guiro Nuevo”, though the rhythm sounds more Tex-Mex than Latin. Constructing a luxurious condo of a solo out of fluttering grace motes and theme variation that take full advantage of expanded tonal and rhythmic freedom, the trombonist layers tone upon tone, timbre upon timbre, backed by a sympathetic rhythm section with clanking drum bits.
While many of the performances on the all-Fiedler-composed tunes totter between studio smoothness and the idea that one or another player feels he must get hot on demand, the final two tunes “Quasi” and “Yinz”, respectively a boogaloo and some free-form, suggest how things might have gone otherwise. Both sinewy and inchoate, “Quasi” encompasses a walking bass line and cantilever drum breaks, with both the trombonist’s and the saxophonist’s (in Trane mode) solos tongue and lip punishing but not quiet unrestrained. A whole cloth of trombone tonguing, saxophone slurps, drum pings and guitar synthesizer judders, the five break apart “Yinz” and put it together smartly. Would that this contrapuntal invention had been expressed earlier.
Fielder is a sophisticated trombone stylist who has notched notable session in the past. Maybe his expanded group will find its collective feet next time out. Meanwhile Phillips is a name whose work deserves more attention. But a trip to the Far East may be necessary to do so.
Track Listing: Orbit: 1. Attitude Adjustment 2. Bluster Buster 3. Decaying Orbit 4. Splatter Pattern 5. Bipolar Vortex 6. Uptown Swagger 7. Not Here You Don't
Personnel: Orbit: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Mars Williams (alto and tenor saxophones); Dan Phillips (guitar); Krzysztof Pabian (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums)
Track Listing: Strange: 1. Go Get It 2. Maple Avenue Tango 3. A Ladybug in My Notebook 4. Like, Strange 5. E.T. (For Eje Thelin) 6. Guiro Nuevo 7. Tuna Fish Cans 8. Quasi 9.Yinz.
Personnel: Strange: Joe Fiedler (trombone); Jeff Lederer (tenor and soprano saxophones); Pete McCann (guitar); Rob Jost (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums)