October 28, 2019
New Lab Series No #
Casper Nyvang Rask
Slow Evolution Ensemble
Gotta Let It Out GIJO 027
Saxophone timbres whether harmonized or extended are the leitmotif of these debut sessions by youngish composers, who are each part of energetic scenes in Copenhagen and Brooklyn. Almost completely antithetical in intent and execution, Intuit consists of two tone-poem suites expressed in a near formalist manner by a three or four person saxophone choir plus bass and drums, while Slow Evolution Ensemble is all of one piece, matching its bass and drums bottom with a top line of four or five reedists alternating saxophone and/or clarinet timbres.
While the band is led by bassist Casper Nyvang Rask, who composed all six tracks, on Slow Evolution Ensemble is all northern European, the front-line personnel on Intuit is a rebuke to the Trump administrations’ anti-immigrant policies, Leader/composer/alto saxophonist Jonathon Crompton is Australian, and Ingrid Laubrock, one of the tenor saxophonists is German. Apparently visa checking and nationality checking hasn’t yet made it into the Jazz world.
Interestingly enough the only item as ersatz as Donald Trump’s hair on the Danish session is when Rask adds the string setting from the midi synthesizer to some of the tunes. He shouldn’t have bothered. For the material stands on its own in interpretation by reedists Laura Toxværd, Mads Egetoft, Francesco Bigoni, Henrik Pultz Melbye and Lars Greve plus drummers Bjørn Heebøll and Ole Mofjell and fellow bassist Roberto Bordiga, all of whom have extensive experience on the local scene. Concerned with chromatic interplay, some sequences, such as “Marzahn” create a pulsating telegraph-key-dot-dash narrative fluctuating between whistling clarinet spills and thicker saxophone variables with a slurping split tone tenor elaboration most prominent. Both drummers can create a marching beat if needed, although swing is the reigning motif, while the bassists can output raw power as well as guitar-like facility. All of these qualities are on show with “Alan Silva, zum Beispiel”, name checking the venerable Free Jazz bass pioneer, and here the tune’s slinky forward motion, abetted by horn harmonies, is also frequently interrupted by New Thing-like interjections as the saxophonists squeak up to their instruments’ highest ranges with glottal punctuation and exploding split tones. Almost 15 minutes long, the concluding enigmatically titled “Slow Evolution in NO871” is designed as the disc’s defining show piece. Literally evolving in slowly unrolling textures, it moves from a chromatic display of undifferentiated saxophone snarls and twitters to double counterpoint between one saxophone meandering and deconstructing the narrative, as the others expend the same energy to elaborate it with harmonized twitters and swirling treble. Meantime irregular drum whacks and thickened bass strokes maintain the chromatic flow until a build up of intersectional challenges and melding of reed tones confirms the theme’s freedom, ruggedness and conclusive originality.
Originality is the watchword of Crompton’s writing and playing on Intuit as well. But the drawback of his arrangements, especially in the four-part Canadian Suite, is an over-reliance on saxophone harmonies. Layering and contrapuntal challenges are one thing, but too much unison leads to a formalism that makes the saxophone section too closely resemble a reading so-called classical ensemble rather than one made up of committed improvisers. Still Crompton, Laubrock and the two other reedists – Patrick Booth and Patrick Breiner – often overcome this, while the rhythm section of bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Kate Gentile ensure the sounds aren’t too refined. Still while the linked selections celebrating the saxophonist’s educational stint at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity are appropriately airy and unfettered, there are also a few too many pastoral harmonies. Someone who has been in Alberta during a wintery December might question the warm fluttering alto saxophone line on the track of that name. Finally enlivened with Gentile’s booming drum accents, the linked “Primacy of Gesture” and “Catherine” are most notable. Corralling layered tones from three saxophones on the first track to undulate in muted emphasis leads to elegantly harmonized counterpoint by the second, with creamy one, fluidity affecting the forward motion with more than a few disruptive slides and slips. Additionally while the oddly titled “Apathy” ambulates decisively when a West Coast Jazz-like swing from tenor saxophone slurs and idiophone friction and crackles from Gentile is succeeded by contrapuntal lines from multiple saxophones, its the introductory title track which best characterizes Crompton’s work and the session. As saxophone vibrations constantly cross and re-cross one another with peeping and crying variations, a raw screech from one, coupled with Hopkins’ thumping bass define one pole of the track. A smoky Sam the Man Taylor-like pleading squeeze soon arrives as its antithesis. The resulting tension between the two is what makes some of Intuit appealing. Still, the session would have been stronger if more sinew and less sleekness was involved.
As it is, both Crompton and Rask have created appealing debuts that augur well for future triumphs.
Track Listing: Intuit: 1. Intuit /Spectrum Suite: 2. Courage 3. Apathy 4. Dreaming /Canadian Suite: 5. Primacy of Gesture 6. Catherine 7. Suite in A Major 8. December
Personnel: Intuit: Jonathon Crompton (alto saxophone); Ingrid Laubrock [1-4, 7, 8); Patrick Booth [5, 6] (tenor saxophone); Patrick Breiner [1, 2, 4- 8] (tenor saxophone),  (bass clarinet); Adam Hopkins (bass) and Kate Gentile (drums)
Track Listing: Slow: 1. Chaffinch (Goodbye Forever) 2. Alan Silva, zum Beispiel 3. Threeleggeddog* 4. Marzahn* 5. Chaffinch (Goodbye) 6. Slow Evolution in NO871+#
Personnel: Slow: Laura Toxværd (alto saxophone*); Mads Egetoft (tenor saxophone); Francesco Bigoni, Henrik Pultz Melbye, Lars Greve+ (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Casper Nyvang Rask (bass and keyboards); Roberto Bordiga (bass) and Bjørn Heebøll or Ole Mofjell# (drums)