May 2, 2019
Astral Spirits MF188/AS084
Tom Rainey Ttrio
Intakt CD 316
Has it Been Found?
Discus Music 78 CD
Moving on from a novel – if not unexpected – configuration of saxophone, guitar and drums are three ensembles whose members appreciate and use the flexibility and timbral colors available with this format. Depending on how the instruments are blended and which tempos are emphasized marks how each makes an individual statement. These sessions of group-created sounds involve players from a couple of generations of Europeans and Americans. New York drummer Tom Rainey’s Combobulated CD for instance is a showcase for a veteran player like him and two younger veterans, German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and guitarist Mary Halvorson. British saxophonist/Mick Beck is the elder player on Has it Been Found, partnered with younger British associates, guitarist Anton Hunter and drummer Johnny Hunter. Meanwhile the New York-based contributors to Drolleries are all relative tyros: saxophonist Sam Weinberg, guitarist Andrew Smiley and drummer Jason Nazary.
As a callow ensemble, the members of BLOOR also wear their influences on their sleeves, or at least reflected on what they play on their instruments. Musical ground zero for the three seems to be the Harmolodic-styled intonations created by Ornette Coleman, James Blood Ulmer and others in the mid-1970s. Placing their own stamp on top of the Coleman sonic witches brew, the three often create a Jazz version of the pressurized sound economy of the Ramones. With the track lengths ranging from under a minute to a little less than 6½, they rush through them with a dynamic that’s one part jangling guitar runs, one part super-fast, altissimo saxophone screeches and one part variegated drum patterns. If the voicings sometimes sound a bit similar and predictable, there are enough kinetic moments to make up for that. For instance there’s the foot-tapping and leg-swinging ferment brought out by bonding pitter-patter drum beats and saxophone honks on “Defacer”, or how on “The Croy Hours” animated percussion thunks mixed with guitar strings slashes and stabs and reed masticating entwine into accelerating dissonant pitches that propel energy and excitement. Other sequences that include nearly unbroken reed split tones streaming across the improvisations or chunky rhythm guitar steadiness may further define the group’s program, but a few, usually unaccompanied calmer vibrations from each of the players suggest that more musical variety should dilute this pressurized interplay next time out.
Rainey’s dexterity may suggest some strategies to Bloor. Adaptable in many genres, he has long been one of most in-demand drummers on the scene. Furthermore, even though his name is above the title on Combobulated, his playing is the least pressurized on the set. Combobulate by the way means to bring something out of a state of confusion or disarray. While neither of those adjectives really fit the six long tracks here, the word does define some of the group’s alchemy. In fact, the concluding “Torn Road” is the only real percussion showcase. Paced by Halvorson’s pitch-sliding guitar work with sinewy twangs, Rainey enters with paced rim shots and nerve beats and ends with an intense intermezzo of bumps and clashes. One of the guitarist’s outstanding forays is on “Isn’t Mine” where as she uses rhythm guitar-like chunks to chromatically move the tune along, inferences from “Over the Rainbow” fade in and out of focus as the pattern is backed by soprano saxophone flutters and Rainey’s delicate brush work. Elsewhere, Laubrock’s reed bites, buzzes, swells and flutters are put to good use as foils to the guitarist’s textured licks or the drummer’s patterns and bangs. Centrepiece of the CD is the introductory, almost 19-minute first track. A sequence not a suite, the arrangement emphasizes varied patterns and combinations as it evolves from moody mewls and vibrations to more calculated aggrandizing pressure. Sometimes crunching guitar runs and flattened reed tones operate as contrapuntal vamps, backed by intermittent drum slaps; elsewhere Halvorson’s heightened down strokes and Laubrock’s tongue stops evolve as if tied together like contestants in a three-legged race. While Rainey’s cycle of restrained rim shots and echoing cymbal pops is a constant, when driving reed bites and knob-twisting guitar licks fuse, suddenly there’s the realization that Rainey’s bravura patters have become harder, more rhythmic and protracted until the end is signaled with a foghorn-like blast from Laubrock’s horn.
While Beck’s supple bassoon-work can display foghorn and other more acceptable timbres, the relevant tracks on Has it Been Found are more concerned with his tenor saxophone prowess. Someone who has matched wits with stylist like Derek Bailey, Beck’s reed command is equally proficient as microtonal elaborations, slick, alto saxophone-pitched elaborations and brawny gritty honks. The last is used on the introductory “Yes and Now”, evolving in tandem with spanked guitar frails, backed by drumming continuum. As the drummer fractures time with pops and slaps, the saxophonist moves from expressive split tone shards to organically vibrated mass note projection. Combining into piles of locomotive-like power, the trio ends the piece slurring microtones at one another. With other tracks devoted to such motifs as tongue-and-reed curlicue acrobatics, metallic guitar string echoes, enlivened by tick-tock drum beats and cymbal ringing, “Paradox and Confusion” wraps up the session with a distinctive display of high and low pitches. Starting with barely moving tongue slaps and string snaps, the strained strumming and retrained puffing evolves to irregularly vibrated swirls and arabesques from Beck’s horn as well as thickened and squirming guitar chording. With Johnny Hunter’s rat-tat-tats providing more percussive impetus the fidgeting exposition leaps to concentrated raw power and maintains this high intensity until the conclusion.
Usual in some circumstances, the saxophone-reed-drum configuration is a superb medium for what each of these three trios wants to express on these recordings.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Drolleries: 1. Bast 2. J1 3. Mollycoddled 4. The Croy Hours 5. A1 6. Defacer 7. Ending Phrase 8. Liber Scivias 9. Drolleries 10. Splice
Personnel: Drolleries: Sam Weinberg (tenor and alto saxophones); Andrew Smiley (guitar) and Jason Nazary (drums)
Track Listing: Combobulated: 1. Combobulated 2. Point Reyes 3. Fact 4. Isn’t Mine 5. Splays Itself 6. Torn Road
Personnel: Combobulated: Ingrid Laubrock (soprano and tenor saxophones); Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Tom Rainey (drums)
Track Listing: Has: 1. Yes and No 2. What is it? 3. The Guardians of Truth 4. Paradox and Confusion
Personnel: Has: Mick Beck (tenor saxophone, bassoon and whistles); Anton Hunter (guitar) and Johnny Hunter (drums)