February 6, 2021
Future of Change
Chap-Chap Records CPCD 017
Larry Ochs/Aram Shelton Quartet
Clean Feed CF 555 CD
Balancing the timbres of two saxophones in Free Music involves some delicacy, no matter how advanced the program may be. To ensure equilibrium among the participants ingenious synergy must be established. That’s what’s created by these magnetic discs, although improvisational concepts are almost converse.
Future of Change is an out-and-out wedge of FreeImprov in three extended episodes. The chief protagonists are Japanese percussionist Sabu Toyozumi who has worked with everyone from John Russell to Kaoru Abe and American alto saxophonist Rick Countryman, who records frequently with the veteran drummer. Yong Yandsen, a Malaysian tenor saxophonist, who was part of an earlier session with the others two alongside a bassist, is the third player. Continental Drift does feature a bass player, two in fact, San Diego-based Scott Walton and Mark Dresser, who each play on the separate sessions combined for this disc. Stockholm’s Kjell Nordeson, an associate of continental and American players, supplies the sophisticated drumming. But the disc’s focus involves interpreting compositions by its co-leaders; Bay area tenor/sopranino saxophonist Larry Ochs and alto saxophonist Aram Shelton, who now resides in Budapest.
In trio format on the other CD, it’s the rhythmic smarts Toyozumi has assimilated during his half century of percussion creativity that supply the counterbalance to the saxophonists’ reed blasts, which often speed past extended techniques into even more unexpected originality. With the first and title track timed at 36 minutes and the subsequent ones more than 24½ and more than 12½, this is no ensemble dedicated to miniaturization. Throughout the saxophonists propel variations upon variations of tone patterns, using every variety of pitch and speed. Frequently improvising prestissimo with skyscraper high split tones and fragmenting shronks, their vamping call-and-response and extended glossolalia often resembles that of a revival meeting. To counter, Toyozumi ruffs and rebounds take on qualities that could be expected from orchestral kettle drums as cymbal shakes are expressed with the strength of an entire Taiko troupe. Although moderated sequences exist, as one-third of the way on “Future of Change”, where there’s a brief lull, that synapse never sinks to balladic inflections. Respite from the reed bites, doits and overblowing from saxophones singular or in unison, comes on “Two Snakes, Dark River”. Here, following a hand-drummed set up, Toyozumi manipulates his two-string erhu’s swells into Theremin-like eeriness. Countryman’s and Yandens’s responses involve ghostly yodels that soon accelerate to altissimo tongue stops, before culminating in choked, reed-sucking stop-time. Eventually saxophone ferocity reasserts itself. Defining squeaks and trills are heard again as the trio widens its collection of irregular reed vibrations and connective percussion clips to the end.
A more directed, if no less appealing session. Continental Drift often drifts into delineated swing sequences, especially during Shelton’s compositions. This sort of sophisticate tonal sway is alluded to throughout with rhythmic lines often propelled by Dresser’s bass stokes evolving in counterpoint to sandpapery round-robin timbral challenges from the horns. Its apex is reached expressively on “Switch” and “Test Shots”. Taken at a walking pace, the former uses conga-drum-like patterning and strings pops to offset shrill reed flutters and trills that sound as if they’re part of an East Broadway rundown. Even more effortless in its in-the-pocket development, “Test Shots” encompasses variations on a chipper theme that wraps together clanking metal shots from Nordeson and sandpapery theme variations from the tenor saxophonist.
Ochs too can compose groove pieces as he demonstrates on “Strand”, which takes its shape from a percussion break whose clatter suggests timbales, as both high and low-pitched saxophonists passionately tongue virile stabs and slathers. Yet Ochs’ skill also lies in logically interpolating dissected and pointillist reed lines into a wriggling tune’s forward motion. This happens on the title tune, also notable for Walton’s string movements, which create an impression with individualized staccato stabs apparently created by string detuning which propel the narrative.
Still Continental Drift’s show piece is “The Others Dream “, the almost 19½ minute, Ochs-composed final track. Almost as lengthy, but more arranged than the group improvisations on the other CD, drum rumbles set up the exposition as narrow reed variations from Ochs, which bring in every extension of note roots, are stretched out until answered by Shelton’s double-tongued saxophone vibrations. Working through a pas de deux of reed slurps, flattement and multi-tonguing, the two spew rugged knife-sharp variations across the narrative and into screech mode until darkened arco pushes from Walton push the piece to a climax distinguished by almost pure air exhalation from the saxophonists.
Although by design more organized than the Toyozumi session and also featuring a bassist, the Ochs-Shelton CD and the other disc are equivalent exemplars of expressive dual saxophone-percussion articulation.
Track Listing: Future: 1. Future of Change 2. Two Snakes, Dark River 3. Soft Overtones
Personnel: Future: Rick Countryman (alto saxophone); Yong Yandsen (tenor saxophone) and Sabu Toyozumi (drums, erhu)
Track Listing: Continental: 1. Another Night# 2. Slat 3. Switch# 4. Continental Drift* 5. Anita# 6. Strand 7. Test Shots# 8. The Others Dream*
Personnel: Continental: Aram Shelton (alto saxophone); Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones); Scott Walton* or Mark Dresser# (bass) and Kjell Nordeson (drums)