Subtle Degrees

A Dance That Empties
New Amsterdam NWAM 093


The Industry of Entropy

Relative Pitch RPR 1063

One of the most refined and flexible percussionists in Jazz, Gerald Cleaver’s rhythmic skills have been put to use alongside everyone from Roscoe Mitchell to Samuel Blaser. On the CDs here, he’s a featured player in two divergent groups including a different tenor saxophonist, who incidentally also one-fourth of the four-saxophone, Battle Trance band. Both discs inhabit the Free Music spectrum. However A Dance That Empties is a no-holds-barred interaction between the drummer and Travis Laplante’s saxophone, while On The Industry of Entropy, is an integrated effort of timed instant group composing featuring the drummer, saxophonist Matt Nelson plus bassist Brandon Lopez and vibraphonist Andria Nicodemou.

One definition of intensity the Laplante-Cleaver duo swiftly moves from unconnected air whistling through the horn and blunt, though not unsophisticated rolls and pops from the drummer to full-out textural barrages. Quickly enough Laplante ups the ante with snorting chalumeau register asides and triple-tongued arabesques asides, with Cleaver’s shuffles and ruffs pushing against and pushing out of shape the saxophone thrusts. What appears pressurized is made even more so on the second track; and explodes into intense multiphonics on the saxophonist’s part by the third. Although he’s exercising every tone, pattern and phrase with the ardor of an archeologist examining an artifact, Laplante includes shading and modulations to prevent monotony and eventually attains altissimo squeaks and split tones. By the concluding “A Dance That Empties 3” the reed journey is joined by press-roll thunder and cymbal crackles from Cleaver that integrates within the narrative. Without abandoning timbral exploration, the beat clumping and reed bites soften into a more passionate variant mid-way through so that a linear program coexists with the saxophonist’s extended detours into circular breathing and the drummer’s into repetative place marking. Finally the two fuse into a single squirming mass that move into pure sound before dissolving.

The presence of Lopez, who plays with Nate Wooley and Ingrid Laubrock and Nicodemou, who has worked with Ab Baars and Taylor Ho Bynum on the other CD adds more textures to the elemental saxophone-drums interface. Overall the bassist’s measured pluck and the vibist’s woven tapestry of reverberating tones enervates some of the tracks’ more egregious timbres, although there’s still space for split tones and slurps from Nelson and Cleaver’s stick ballet of knocking and slapping.

While the final “Yet” affirms the quartet’s contrapuntal strategy of contrasting expressive metal-bar echoes and wood-infused string slaps with expansive staccato trills and coloratura breaths from Nelson plus Cleaver’s cultivated press rolls and cymbal clashes, the finale concentrates on four-part musical story telling. The most climatic display of concentrated coherence arises during the almost 24-minute centrepiece, “Now”. Evolving from a sequence of buzzes from both double-bass string and saxophone in the same key and tempo, backed by vibraphone rattles and bass drum place-making, the piece soon becomes a multiphonic Nelson showcase, With surges of glottal punctuation, split tones and reed bites, the tenor saxophonist seems to experience every tone, note, timbre and breath in multiple configurations encompassing repetition, overblowing, intensity and vibration. As he moves from altissimo to lower-than-low pitches and from flattement to pitch relaxation, Nelson’s lines are kept in rhythmic check by spiraling textures from Nicodemou and thickened strokes from Cleaver. Narrowing his output to intermittent reed bites to intersect with similar arco modulation from Lopez, embroidery turns to emotion, with an appropriate moderated finale from all.

These CDs show off Cleaver’s connective virtuosity in these situations and he does the same in many other contexts. But the sensation of intense attainment and definition both leave you with are also attributed to the adaptable talents of two tough tenors and two additional rhythm players.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dance: 1. A Dance That Empties 1 2. A Dance That Empties 2 3. A Dance That Empties 3

Personnel: Dance: Travis Laplante (tenor saxophone) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)

Track Listing: Industry: 1. Not 2. Now 3. Again 4. Yet

Personnel: Industry: Matt Nelson (tenor saxophone); Andria Nicodemou (vibraphone); Brandon Lopez (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)