January 3, 2020
Barking Hoop BKH-01
DISCUS 86 CD
From its earliest serious use in Jazz, starting in the 1930s, the vibraphone has had two identities. Some see it as primarily a percussion instrument, cousin to the drums, and emphasize its rhythmic qualities. Others, taken up by its tone and agility, especially when playing with more than two mallets, accentuate its melodic role, treating it almost as a metallic piano. Within the lessened formality of improvised music, especially during the past three decades, this hard-and-fast division has gradually melted away. These striking (sic) dates, one British and one American, are indications of this as well as the evolution of vibraphone playing.
Often associated with committed sound explorers such as Joëlle Léandre and Anthony Braxton is vibist/percussionist Kevin Norton, whose partners in the co-operative Yimba Rudo trio are players whose experience encompasses straight-ahead Jazz and notated music. Bassist Steve LaSpina has played with Stan Getz and Jim Hall among many others, while drummer/percussionist Jim Pugliese has been associated with everyone from Marc Ribot to Philip Glass. Meanwhile the British-based NTH quartet is headed by vibraphonist/percussionist/academic Corey Mwamba, who has worked with the likes of Valentin Ceccaldi and Lucian Bann. His associates here are percussionist Johnny Hunter, who often plays with Mick Beck, pianist Laura Cole, part of the Metamorphic ensemble and bassist Andy Champion, who has worked with the likes of Matt Maneri and Marilyn Crispell.
Although never ignoring the lyrical qualities propelled by ringing metal bars and swift double bass stops, the 13 tracks on Yimba Rudo, composed by different members of the all-American band delve into the properties highlighted by intermingling percussion textures. Individual pieces are often directed through LaSpina’s subtle string buzzes or Pugliese’s paced click, bounces or cymbal sizzles, though Norton’s vibes are invariably in the front-line. Three tracks which follow one another demonstrate this. On the Norton composed “The Faustian Bargain” for instance a narrowed exotic drum splash and sul tasto bass sweeps soon give way to galloping triplet-emphasized vibes, affiliated with fluid string spicatto. Pugliese, who wrote both “Treace” and the subsequent “Morph”, bases the first on irregularly paced drum beats and double-stopping string bowing which accompany speedy metal bar decoration that speeds up as the piece evolves. “Morph” on the other hand is the session most mainstream number with a walking bass line and regulated drum rhythms preserving the theme so that when a mid-section pause is replaced with up-tempo pops, the introduction is seamlessly recapped to complete the circle. LaSpina composed “Tearing Down Walls”, but despite echoing vibe iteration, drum bounces and double bass thumps the outcome is too polite for wall destruction. While the Norton-composed “Sacrifice Zone (ahead) (for Chris Hedges)” is the CD’s most atmospheric take, with ambulatory percussion crunches challenging pinpointed vibe resonation; the concluding “Walking the Dogma” another Norton theme not only emphasis the trio’s blended finesse, but also reconfirms the swing beat that underlines most of the tracks.
With Mwamba having composed all the tracks except for one group improvisation, NTH has more of a unified vision. But the key to these pieces is how the quartet’s individual interpretation defines it in a unique fashion. Despite the instrumental affinity no one would confuse the bands for The Modern Jazz Quartet, or even the Mastersounds. Compare the extended “Orison” for instance with “Entwined Reveries” to get an idea of the quartet’s range. Vibrating and airy, the first is involved with restrained story-telling. It matches bell-tree-like shakes, trebly piano key tinkles and distant drum rolls in an affirming pattern that still leaves enough space for Mwamba to express himself via icicle-thin metal bar patterning as well as multiple-mallet sparkles. In contrast, slower and more ballad-like “Entwined Reveries” develops from unaccompanied motor-slowed echoes from the vibist to a double bass pulse that is fluid enough to build excitement as the pianist adds baroque-like decorations. Polyphonic intent keeps the mood unforced without ever being cloying. This sophisticated swing permeates much of the rest of the session, in spite of attempts to thicken the action. “Over Leagues” for instance has mercurial glockenspiel reverberations from Mwamba and heavy drum smacks from Hunter, while Cole digs into the darker recesses of the piano. Quicksilver vibe reverb keeps the narrative lively though.
Even the group-created “Never a State” with its disjointed moody beginning, which encompasses arco bass string swabs, piano soundboard echoes and an affiliated spray of vibraphone pings, doesn’t upset the musical equation. If anything its linkage to the concluding “Vertumnal”, which remains low-key as the theme moves from piano to vibes patterning with bowed bass strings and drum clip-clops underneath, confirms the session’s singularity of vision expressed by a quartet of connected players.
Exposing the proper mix of lyricism and pulse, both discs confirm how the vibraphone’s distinctive qualities can be adapted to equally attractive situations.
Track Listing: Yimba: 1. Reconcile the Classical View 2. Toronto 3. Moonstruck 4. Winter Retreat 5. Over and Inside the Rainbow 6. The Faustian Bargain 7. Treace 8. Morph 9. Tearing Down Walls 10. Sacrifice Zone (ahead) (for Chris Hedges) 11. Polar Oscillation 12. I Dig Facts, Man 13. Walking the Dogma
Personnel: Yimba: Kevin Norton (vibraphone and percussio); Steve LaSpina (bass) and Jim Pugliese (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: NTH: 1. Against All KnownThings 2. Never a State 3. Sub (taste) 4. Orison 5. Situations 6. A Door to the Sea 7. Entwined Reveries 8. Over Leagues 9. Vertumnal
Personnel: NTH: Corey Mwamba (vibraphone, glockenspiel and beak flute); Laura Cole (piano); Andy Champion (bass) and Johnny Hunter (drums and small percussion)