Assif Tsahar/William Parker/Hamid Drake

In Between the Tumbling a Stillness
Hopscotch Records HOP 60


Fake Music

Soul What Records 004

Exploring the untapped regions of unfettered Free Jazz within the parameters of the classic reeds-double bass-percussion trio are two groups of seasoned players who in both cases include two American and one who isn’t. Just to make it clear, by the way, unless you’re stuck in a sound rut there’s also no fake music on Boneshaker’s CD. Instead real music intensity is on tap via microscopic examination of timbres and tones from two veterans of the Chicago scene, saxophonist Mars Williams and bassist Kent Kessler as well as Norwegian percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, who has often collaborated with the two in the past, especially in ensemble featuring Ken Vandermark. Drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker, who singly or together are arguably the busiest rhythm section players in Free Music – though Drake may tie with Nilssen-Love for the title –, join Israeli saxophonist Assif Tsahar on In Between the Tumbling a Stillness. No first-time meeting, Tsahar often worked with Parker and Drake during his tenure in the US at the tune of the century.

Recorded live in a Tel Aviv club, the CD literally captures three variations on the theme of Energy Music which like the items in the Three Bears home as Goldilocks discovered, come in three sizes. Presenting an initial massive group improvisation, the narratives shrink in length as sonic motifs are refined and defined. By the concluding “A Stillness”, which leads to that state, the skeletal interface intertwines resonating string thwacks rim shots and press roll pitter patter from the drums and reed friction involving vibrations that move from breathy smears to eviscerated split tones. Still, the real fascination lies in following the trio’s strategy on the almost 36-minute “In Between”. Tentative scene-setting jabs, pops and clatters soon give way to in-depth multiphonic extensions as the notes Tsahar spears from the curve of his horn’s body tube are inflated into a fleeting quote from “East Broadway Run Down” that flutter upwards as Parker’s strings shudder sympathetically with pinpointed slaps. The sequence soon moves between the bassist’s paced stopping and Drake’s freer cymbal decorations so that atom-sized reed splinters scan consolidate into euphonious glossolalia from Tsahar with seemingly endless theme variations. This repeated phrasing eventually gives way to reed chortles and shrill squeaks as Drake’s inverted ratamacues signal the climax.

Variations of these exalted techniques echo throughout the disc and similar emblematic skills are displayed on Fake Music. It’s a live date from Chicago, but unlike the other CD with no audience sounds. A cymbal clash from Nilssen-Love, a resonating bash on Kessler’s strings and rigid vibrato intensity from Williams set the tone on the expository "Miakoda”, with the pressure infrequently relaxed during the remainder of the session. As Williams’ blowing range from altissimo shrills to nephritic rumbles, it’s the bassist’s sweeping stops which keep the tracks linear. Furthermore anytime the saxophonist reaches an apparently impossible exhortation, he’s alternately challenged or answered by equivalent percussion counterpoint from the drummer. While there’s plenty of notable polyharmonies and polyrhythms expressed by the three during the subsequent tracks, nothing is played at the expense of nuance or chromatic movement. If Williams’ corkscrews vibrations on “Lovin’ the Buzz” suggest “Pop Goes the Weasel” at one point, then they can sound as if they were torn from one sax solo on “A Love Supreme” on another. The perfect balance among the three allows for emotional slower passages on this and the final “Echo Clang”. yet at the same time, especially in the last section of “Lovin’ the Buzz”, interest in exploring tone partials through slurry blows, woody string echoes and bass drum shuffles means that motifs are deconstructed and reassembled almost before the quick-change is noticeable.

United in quality these discs show how much can be expressed with just three instruments in the right hands – and mouths.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fake: 1. Miakoda 2. Lovin’ the Buzz 3. Echo Clang.

Personnel: Fake: Mars Williams (alto and tenor saxophones and toy instruments); Kent Kessler (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums, percussion)

Track Listing: Stillness: 1. In Between 2. The Tumbling 3. A Stillness

Personnel: Stillness Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); William Parker (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums)