Avram Fefer Quartet

Testament
Clean Feed 537 CD

The WOOOH

Music for Weddings and Funerals

Ormo Records No #

As the decades advance the definition of Jazz and improvised music becomes more diffuse. So many sound currents have become accepted as part of the canon that only the most hidebound conservative insist on a rigid definition. But if the alien influences overwhelm improvisational adroitness the result can lead to undigested eclecticism that satisfies no one. With identical instrumentation, one American and one European quartet test the limits of free music adaptability on their CDs. But while the two groups create equally compelling programs, only one retains what could be termed a Jazz sensibility.

Not surprising that band is all-American. On Testament, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Eric Revis, alto and tenor saxophonist Avram Fefer and drummer Chad Taylor express themselves on a series of Fefer compositions. Fefer has often worked with Bobby Few and Adam Rudolph, Taylor most prominently with Rob Mazurek and Revis with everyone from Lionel Hampton to Peter Brötzmann; they’ve also worked as a band for more than a decade. The new element here is Ribot, whose affiliations include Klezmer, Rock and even folk-protest songs. Furthermore his solos often include excursions into the furthest reaches of arena-Rock showiness.

Still with many of the tunes depending on tandem blending of guitar frails and extended saxophone slurs, the spectre of Rock music excess looms over the session. Luckily the players are sophisticated enough to rein in those tendencies. Such sequences as the title track and the concluding “Essaouira” are instances of this. The latter for instance is a foot-tapper that stretches from Bop to boogie with Fefer’s fruity honks and trills reaching reed-shredding proportions and Ribot’s careful comping moving upwards from single-string plinks to fluid, repetitive licks. On “Testament”, a top-of-range alto saxophone explosion meets spectacular slurred fingering from the guitarist, whose Hendrix-like slithers move in-and-out of tune. Blended with swift, multi-string stopping from Revis, the climax is reached as Fefer unleashes wild altissimo screams.

At the same time other tracks prove the quartet has a more cultured side. This includes tunes like “Wishful Thinking”, a moderated amble dependent on Taylor’s hard bounces, backbeat and later rim shots. The echoing in-the-pocket buzzes from the saxophonist and guitarist here and elsewhere are prominent throughout. Often times Fefer’s more pronounced Free Jazz orientation wins out over Ribot’s commitment to Folk-Rock-like strums. Yet expressed at its more incisive the teamwork reaches a blend of light and dark, hard and soft, swing and unbridled improvisation that suggests some of Sonny Rollins work with Jim Hall.

If there are any comparable echoes which are invested in Music for Weddings and Funerals’ two extended tracks it’s to the trance-ambient-microtonalism pioneered by groups such as The Necks. At the same time Rock inflections invariably fuse into the mix. Although Nantes-based double bass player, Sylvain Didou is affiliated with the collective Kreiz Breizh Akademi 5, his Copenhagen associates often move from improvised to so-called avant-rock situations. Tenor saxophonist Henrik Pultz Melbye is part of the band SVIN as well as playing with the likes of Nate Wooley. Drummer Rune Lohse is part of the Horse Orchestra Klimaforandringer as well as playing with improvisers like Herb Robertson; and guitarist Lars Bech Pilgaard has worked with groups like H E X and Slowburn.

Happily, like Ribot on the other disc, the group members’ Rock-ist tendencies are held in check. Seemingly filling every space in the firmament, cross pulses and wide-ranging sound waves permeate “Wedding”. Segmented with droning whistles and wiggling pressure from the saxophonist, nimble drum rumbles and guitar string flanges the piece climaxes in a mixed modernist/primtivist manner. With double bass splatters backing busy guitar runs, the forefront is taken by up by tones from Pultz Melbye that suggest boreal textures from an animal horn-created instruments.

Even more intense is the nearly 22-minute “Funeral”, whose movement is anything but funereal, solidifies those Rock music inferences. Drumstick rattles and rolls plus slashing guitar vibrations and irregularly emphasized harsh vibrations from the saxophonist soon accelerate the backbeat drumming, double bass string buzzes and chunky guitar tone deconstruction. Thumping and bumping to a crescendo of hot vibrations during the first sequence, by mid-point the band slides to a more comforting exposition of atmospheric guitar runs and percussion vibrations with clip-clops and bell-ringing. Splintering into more challenging improvisational tropes, the guitarist scrapes textures from below the bridge, while sliding harsher textures from his strings as foghorn-like reed blowing meets up with irregular drum patterning. Presaged by dense string buzzing from Didou, the finale involves emphasizing a connective thread involving drum smacks, altissimo saxophone wavers and conclusive rounded notes from the guitarist.

Mastering a musical balancing act, both quartets manage the delicate task of transcending and melding their influences into particular and dissimilar takes on contemporary improvised music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Testament: 1. Dean St. Hustle 2. American Interlude 3. Testament 4. Song for Dyani 5. Magic Mountain 6. Wishful Thinking 7. Parable 8. Essaouira

Personnel: Testament: Avram Fefer (alto and tenor saxophones); Marc Ribot (guitar); Eric Revis (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)

Track Listing: Weddings: 1. Wedding 2. Funeral

Personnel: Weddings: Henrik Pultz Melbye (tenor saxophone); Lars Bech Pilgaard (guitar); Sylvain Didou (bass) and Rune Lohse (drums)