Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble

Relay Recordings RR021

He surely didn’t conceive of it that way, but the newest release by Chicago percussionist Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble can be heard as a mini history of Jazz. That’s because the versatile drummer, marimba player – and in this case – turntablist has written three compositions which are played by his multi-functional associates with subtle references to other musical narratives.

Besides Daisy, who is often as busy playing overseas as on this continent, the ensemble’s ranks are filled by locals Josh Berman on cornet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, clarinetist James Falzone and Dave Rempis playing alto and baritone saxophones. Imported from Manhattan is trombonist Steve Swell.

Listening to the tunes as a group, “Corner Counter” with its sprightly clarinet tone and gutbucket trombone smears could be a progressive variation on Dixieland. Daisy’s marimba solo on “Glass and Lead”, suggests the fine-grained yet gutsy playing Red Norvo did on that instrument in the Swing Era and later as part of the West Coast Jazz scene. Finally “Means to an End”, rife with round robin solos, adumbrates the Bop-to-Free continuum that still informs most serious contemporary improvisation.

Not that any of the players are even unconsciously emulating earlier styles. For instance “Corner Counter” also balances on a gutty baritone sax solo and a broken chord duet between Swell and Falzone, adding a drum-led coda that reintroduces the bouncy theme after it’s deconstructed. Clustered marimba pops, clarinet slurs and downbeat horn harmonies propel the atmospheric “Glass and Lead”. Meanwhile the foot-tapping Basie-band-like urgency of “Means to an End” evolves through call-and-response riffing, a choppy alto sax solo and subtle, sophisticated drumming.

Animation’s one drawback may be its less-than-40-minute running time. But that shouldn’t deter those who accept quality over quantity.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Corner Counter 2. Glass and Lead 3. Means to an End

Personnel: Josh Berman (cornet); Steve Swell (trombone); James Falzone (clarinet); Dave Rempis (alto and baritone saxophones); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) and Tim Daisy (drums, marimba and turntables )