October 11, 2020
Driff Records DCD 2001
Clean Feed CF 546 CD
Two quintets featuring European-born pianists animate these sessions. Except for the degrees of ebullience brought to these all-original sessions by two quintets of mostly American associates each disc is equally noteworthy.
Boston-based, the Cutout group includes bassist Nate McBride, trombonist Jeb Bishop and drummer Luther Gray, who collectively and singly have played with everyone from Taylor Ho Bynum to Ken Vandermark. Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis was born in Greece and saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra in Holland. However both have taught at the post-secondary level and played in Massachusetts for decades, making them un-hyphenated American for everyone but Donald Trump. Born in Russia, pianist Simon Nabatov spent a few years in New York after emigrating, but has now firmly ensconced in Köln. Visiting the US last year he organized this quintet featuring a cross section of experienced improvisers. Saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, drummer Tom Rainey, trumpeter Herb Robertson and bassist John Hébert have worked with many sound explorers including Tim Berne, Ingrid Laubrock and Gerry Hemingway and a couple have been featured on earlier Nabatov discs.
Every musician contributes at least one composition to the six medleys that make up Cutout. Considering the exuberance that suffuses the disc, it’s clear that everyone was happy to play. For the same reason it’s difficult to choose among the tracks since each operates on the same high level. The suite consisting of the pianist’s “Shadow”, the trombonist’s “Bird Call” and the bassist’s “Chickadee” for instance is a well-orchestrated polyphonic romp. Starting with the hard touch of, and additional accents from, Karayorgis, rolling glissandi usher in Bishop’s tongue stretching variations and ruffs from Gray. Directed piano comping backs Dijkstra’s alto saxophone slurs that blend with trombone tones into a forward-moving narrative. Eventually drum thumps, brass slides and keyboard undulations reach a folksy expansion arching around McBride’s woody string slaps. Meanwhile McBride’s title track is Bluesy, blowsy and bottom-based with echoing bass stops letting the pianist vamp in and out of the theme. Karayorgis’ pacing turns bumpy in order to properly complement Bishop’s plunger work and Dijkstra’s bites and bent notes, with the multiphonic intensity, are eventually put aside for dynamic and speedy glissandi and thickened low-pitched clips from both double bass and piano.
Overall the quintet can project sounds that could be played at a house party as well a recital hall, with jerky melodies directed by Bishop’s gutbucket smears highlighted as much as tender expositions depend on Karayorgis’ chromatic cross tones. The most representative track unites Dijkstra’s “Chainsaw Pedicure” and Bishop’s “Tenet”. After intense piano repetitions replicate motor-driven sways, antithetical movement comes from Bishop’s tailgate slurs and Dijkstra’s gentle soprano saxophone flutters that are almost violin-like. Following a piano vamp to a climatic outburst, the section concludes in-and-out of time with understated honks and slurs.
Product of a single vision rather than many, Plain’s progress doesn’t stint on other players’ participation though. Each sequence emphasizes individual tones as well as the composer’s vision, with even the concluding “House Party Starting”, the set’s one non-original, eventually transforming Herbie Nichols offbeat swing to be personalized in Speed’s tenor saxophone solo that leads into a delicate almost semi-classical piano solo.
Each of the six Nabatov compositions move between these parameters, while showing his keyboard skills with canny tonal deviations. For instance the first and title tune appear to be chamber Jazz as Speed’s undulating clarinet lines brush up against the pianist’s formalism. Yet by the midpoint the addition of muted trumpet and drum beats turns the piece into subtle swing with Nabatov using the sound and space as if he was Red Garland. Rugged and irregularly paced, the subsequent “Copy That” quickly reaches a crescendo of multiple timbres. These sound shards come from reed slurps, cornet buzzes, arco bass sweeps and rococo keyboard emphasis. Yet just as the jigsaw-puzzle piece-like textures are affiliated, they break apart into smaller and briefer tones. Throughout, multiphonic and polyphonic passages are emphasized as Nabatov’s compositions and playing allow for sophisticated swells and dissolves. Plus these comprehensive grooves are stretched to include asides like saxophone snarls or burnished tones from the trumpet.
Even the penultimate “Slow Thinker” betrays its title by evolving from an exercise in languid cymbal motions from Rainey and swabbing sweeps from Hébert to advance in pointillist morsels. Without ever losing the connective thread, the narrative adds colors in the form of reed puffs and sul tasto string buzzes as it advances until attaining a sped up conclusion.
If Nabatov is a slow thinker he does so to create multi-dimensional compositions. On Plain these composition are performed with a maximum of élan, and the same could be said for the tunes and playing on Cutout.
Track Listing: Cutout: 1. Hyphen 2. Cutout 3. Chainsaw Pedicure/Tenet 4. Shadow/Bird Call/Chickadee 5. Sand Pile 6. Neumes/Jowls
Personnel: Cutout: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Jorrit Dijkstra (soprano and alto saxophones); Pandelis Karayorgis (piano); Nate McBride (bass) and Luther Gray (drums)
Track Listing: Plain: 1. Plain 2. Copy That 3. Cry From Hell 4. Break 5. Ramblin' On 6. Slow Thinker 7. House Party Starting
Personnel: Plain: Herb Robertson (trumpet, cornet, voice); Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Simon Nabatov (piano); John Hébert (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums)