Sabu Toyozumi/Simon Tan/Rick Countryman/Yong Yandesen

Voices of the Spirit
Chap Chap Records CPCD 016

As xenophobic North Americans and Europeans fret about the technological and commercial acumen emanating from the Far East, tolerant musicians have expressed admiration for players from that area who bring out new ideas. Exemplar of the situation is Jazz and improvised music and that’s why Voices of the Spirit should be welcomed by anyone interested in sonic evolution. The three extended essays in Free Jazz feature veteran Japanese drummer Sabu Toyozumi, Filipino double bassist Simon Tan, Malaysian tenor saxophonist Yong Yandesen and American alto saxophonist Rick Countryman.

Toyozumi, who has recorded with the likes of Kaoru Abe and John Russell among many others, had been part of an on-again, off-again ensemble with the bassist and alto saxophonist for a few years. A new addition, besides leading his own band, Yandsen has been featured in the Hungry Ghost trio with Norwegian Paal Nilssen-Love. Voices of the Spirit is somewhat reminiscent of Albert Ayler’s trio at its most ferocious if Charles Tyler was added on alto. Not that these performances are retro in any way. They do however feature the sort of responsive calculations that this music must possess.

Beginning with this first and title track, Yandesen doesn’t come across as an add-on but as full participation in the unfolding improvisations. Galvanized by Tan’s usually unheard but steadying rhythm, Toyozumi is free to output a fluid tapestry of accents and stresses from his cymbals and drum kit, while the alto and tenor saxophonists chase one another through extended tonalities like 21st Century Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon. Neither of those prototypical Boppers attained the collection of bottom-feeding squeals or irregularly vibrated yelps which characterize Countryman’s and Yandesen’s solos of course. But overall these aviary peeps and snarling burps fill any holes left by the drummer’s shaking colors and Tan’s walking bass line.

Sliding through the peaks and valleys of this live program, there are many notable climaxes and crescendos, with bass string thumb pops, crumbling ruffs and cow bell whacks from the drummer as well as repeated reed overblowing leading to wide, bottom-feeding snarls or freak note amplification. As the improvisations evolve, onomatopoeic and aviary saxophone textures are heard, with both able to vary their output with a demarked collection of individual screams, stacked cries, tongue slaps and striated rasps. These passages are often moderated with Toyozumi’s lightened clip clops and squeezed to responsive silences however.

Ultimately the session ends with “Cosmic Breath”. After unique atonal reed textures which source new timbres that sound like rubs against inflated balloons or Bedlam induced screams, this final all-encompassing free form essay is brought to a halt with cymbal clashes and a nephritic saxophone sigh. This quartet should convene more often. Its stimulating creativity easily stacks up against equivalent ensembles, no matter their origin.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Voices of the Spirit 2. Unity of Opposites 3. Cosmic Breath

Personnel: Rick Countryman (alto saxophone); Yong Yandsen (tenor saxophone); Simon Tan (bass) and Sabu Toyozumi (drums and erhu)