Front and Above
1703 Skivbolaget 1703-2

Focused on the next generation of sonic challenges improvised musicians are now addressing, Front and Above is a live date showcasing some of the methods adopted by one e threesome on its first-ever gig. Veteran trio member is British drummer Steve Noble, whose résumé includes work with everyone from Derek Bailey to Alexander Hawkins. The other Brit involved is alto saxophonist Seymour Wright, who has been involved with investigating alternative reed tones and techniques for years. Stockholm-based Australian John Chantler, who plays synthesizer here, but has also used other keyboards for excursions into minimalism and musique concrete, rounds how the group.

There’s nothing minimalist about Wright’s playing here though. The astringent tones he forces from his instrument are not only shrill, but also distorted so that they become wider and even higher-pitched as he improvises. Additionally multiphonics and split tones enter into nearly every reed ejaculation. Because of this, Chantler’s commitment to microtones is secondary on this date as well. Although he’s rarely upfront with the synthesizer’s blurry splooshes and electronic patches, his processed, juddering pulse serves as a consistent leitmotif throughout the six tracks. Meanwhile, Noble’s sonorous and constantly changing percussion strategies are significant in their variety. Yet like the underappreciated straight man in a comedy revue his fundamental role is actually in keeping the rhythmic pulse constantly moving.

Never fortissimo, Wright’s reed breaths take the form of strangled cries on a track such as “Front 2” or diaphragm-vibrated gurgles and chirps on “Above 1”. On the former Chantler’s gonging vibrations and distorted textures provide the perfect backdrop to the saxophonist’s brief, spectacular expansions into split tones, cut-off breaths and tongue slapping. Again though, it’s the drummer’s positioned cymbal scrapes which preserve the track’s linear flow. Burgeoning snarls from Wright ultimately turn to brays on the lengthy “Above 1”, with the others’ polyrhythmic additions helping to subdivide this sonic real estate among balanced tones. The saxophonist’s false register peeps and boiling cries plus billowing synthesizer flanges and the drummer’s beat bravura via sticks, brushes and palms, unsettle the polyphony to the extent that incoherence is threatened. Eventually however, power claps from Noble’s kit pierce the near-chaos and presage an intersecting layered finale. Like watching a high-wire act, true appreciation of Chantler/Noble/Wright’s work is in following its execution as well as the tunes’ completion

Together Chantler, Noble and Wright are evolving a novel approach to improvisation. Nut it make take a few more discs like this one to fully appreciate that evolution.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Front 1 2. Front 2 3. Front 3 4. Above 1 5. Above 2 6. Above 3

Personnel: Seymour Wright (alto saxophone); John Chantler (synthesizer) and Steve Noble (drums)