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Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core
Nearly ubiquitous internationally – or so it often appears – keyboardist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura are as likely to be found playing with their American combos or big bands as with a variety of other groups located in their Tokyo hometown.
Open to more musical experiences then those where they call all the shots, husband-and-wife Tamura and Fujii, who plays piano, synthesizer and accordion, may join other groups for short or extended periods. These superior CDs, recorded two years apart, demonstrate their adaptability. Cities results from a two-day Glasgow gig that joined the two with a trio of Scottish improvisers –saxophonist Raymond MacDonald, guitarist Neil Davidson and drummer Tom Bancroft – all of whom are as omnipresent in that city’s music scene as Tamura and Fujii are internationally.
Stone Shift is another matter. Together since the beginning of the century, saxophonist Larry Ochs and dual drummers Donald Robinson and Scott Amendola extend the textures of their Sax & Drumming Core band by adding Tamura and Fujii on a regular basis. Ochs, who wrote all the tunes here, now has more colors for his compositional palate, while making the band name slightly vestigial.
This is especially obvious on the title tune, subtitled “For Kurosawa” – doubtlessly honoring the Japanese director. After the two percussionists move spectrally across the sonic space with thumping patterns reminiscent of Taiko drumming, Tamura’s whinnying tremolos appear in double counterpoint with Ochs’ harsh, near-swallowed reed textures. Fujii plays a dual role – something that may have appealed to Kurosawa – alternating skittering synthesizer pedal point with organically thick piano runs. As the tune slithers along, and both of her keyboards move in a portamento fashion, strangled cries and capillary growls drop from the trumpet, matched by thin, almost-Asiatic repetitive trills from Ochs’ soprano sax. Finally the horns encapsulate their variations by intermingling squeezed reed chirps and burbling brass cries. All the while rough cymbal echoes, rattling snares and spacious rebound from Robinson and Amendola shore up the bottom. Finally, a wash of near-vocal synthesizer textures complete the aural picture.
The introductory “Across From Over”, which clocks in at more than 19 minutes, delineates all this and more, as the resonating cracks, ruffs, slaps and retorts from the dual drummers begin to suggest African and Native American percussion patterns. One man echoes Pharoah Sanders’ percussion-heavy forays of the 1960s, while the other suggests the Universal Indians motifs of the Ayler brothers’ percussionists of around the same time. In fact, intentionally or not, spluttering split tones at the top of Ochs’ range ejaculated with a tough tenor-styled thickness recall Albert Ayler’s soloing, while the trumpeter’s sluicing triplets and bent, whinnying notes are reminiscent of Donald Ayler’s limited style. “Across From Over” shouldn’t be confused with a period-piece salute however. Fujii’s two-handed synthesizer flutters and swift piano glissandi are definitely of this century though, while the tactile press rolls, breakneck ruffs, cross-patterning flams and polyrhythmic time dislocation from the drummers confirms the CD’s 21st Century origin.
Also very much in this century, and a testament to Scottish improvisers new-found sophistication, is Cities. Using only acoustic instruments – except for electric guitar – the nine tracks confirm how seamlessly Fujii’s and Tamura’s skills blend with those of others. Overall, the only downside here would be that the keyboardist’s familiarity with the inner working of the piano and its strings are such that it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint guitarist Davidson’s contributions in the mix. A further anomaly is that a burst of applause at the end of one track is the only one heard – an odd juxtaposition for a session recorded at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts.
Davidson’s below-the-bridge sweeps and angular picking are obvious on “Two Blocks East” where they join with Fujii’s walking bass line and peal point pressure. As her patterning becomes thicker and louder, it’s contrapuntally challenged by reed bites from MacDonald and tremolo tongue motions from Tamura. Bancroft’s drumming has already accelerated from gentle sand-dance-like strokes to thick, resounding thumps in order to match the saxman’s masticated tones. Now the narrative foreshortens to make room for cawing reed lines, vibrating trumpet flourishes, guitar string snaps, pummeled piano runs plus hard ruffs and strokes from the drums. Turning moderato, repeated trumpet measures bring the band back to earth.
Weighty and frail timbres figure into other instant compositions, such as “Oxygenitis” and “Overload”. On the former Fujii’s sharp key stabs accompany light-toned flutters and lyrical vibrations from MacDonald, who almost sounds like a modernistic, Glaswegian Stan Getz here. Furthermore, his delicately tongued alto work includes constructing a buzzing obbligato to Tamura’s whirring grace notes. Then as Bancroft ruffles his drum tops, the pianist splatters note textures and yanks jagged asides from the instrument’s nether regions. More of the same, “Overload” features Fujii’s heavy chording moving crab-like on one line, as MacDonald and Tamura follow a parallel path in double counterpoint. The saxophonist irregularly vibrates and squeaks, while the trumpeter wah-wahs. This ends with both cascading notes. While Davidson’s occasional plinks add an additional sound layer, Bancroft’s rebounds and rumbles keep the improvisational edifice balanced.
Throughout these and the other tracks, the quintet runs through a litany of high and low frequency reed slurs, kinetic chording, internal piano string plinks, brass mouthpiece kisses and any manner of metronomic or broken-time strategies from the drummer. The cumulative results range from shrill to smooth, but few sounds are less than remarkable.
Extending their range and collaborations further, Tamura and Fujii prove that a mixed Japanese-Scottish session is only a bit les memorable than one featuring simpatico Japanese and American players.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Stone: 1. Across From Over 2. Abstraction Rising 3. Stone Shift (for Kurosawa)
Personnel: Stone: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones); Satoko Fujii (piano and synthesizer) and Donald Robinson and Scott Amendola (drums)
Track Listing: Cities: 1. Navigation 2. Parallel Shapes 3. Overload 4. A Strange Prediction 5. Two Blocks East 6. Into the Diversion 7. Oxygenitis 8. How did I get Here 9. Euphoria
Personnel: Cities: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Raymond MacDonald (alto and soprano saxophones); Satoko Fujii (piano); Neil Davidson (guitar) and Tom Bancroft (drums)
February 16, 2010
Giving the symbolic finger to the museum-quality preservationists who make up most of jazz repertory companies, Rova, the Bay Area sax quartet, has audaciously created its own version of Ascension, John Coltranes seminal work from 1965. Then as further nose-thumbing to the crowd that prefers polite Duke Ellington or Miles Davis-Gil Evans style recreations, the band plus eight helpmates, has conflated the piece still further into a noise and electronic extravaganza.
Whats more, this is the second time the Rova crew has honored Ascension. In 1995, adding a rhythm section and additional stellar soloists such as trumpeter Raphe Malik and the late tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman, the band created a lengthy acoustic version of Tranes original suite. Still convinced that Ascension is a master work that deserves to be played even more often, Rova members Larry Ochs and Jon Raskin decided on another go round, radically changing the instrumentation without losing the compositions essence.
Nonetheless, nay-sayers may wonder why another run at the piece is necessary. No one seems to question the seemingly endless re-recordings of Beethoven symphonies and other classics of so called serious music. Then when it comes to jazz, recording more of Ellingtons, Monks Mingus or Goodmans most popular compositions doesnt seem to bother anyone either. In terms of Coltrane however, while different versions of Giant Steps and Equinox are de rigueur for many sax men, Ascension still frightens.
After all the recording was the only time Trane surrounded himself with a large group of younger Free Jazz improvisers and it signaled for the hard-bop sentimentalists that the John Coltrane of My Favorite Things and the BALLADS LP had changed forever.
As unable to remain complacent in its achievements as Coltrane was in his, the four members of Rova soprano saxophonist Bruce Ackley, alto saxophonist Steve Adams, tenor saxophonist Ochs and baritone saxophonist Raskin have never shied away from a challenge and they meet this one with skill and equanimity. Replacing Coltranes ensemble of five saxes, two trumpets, piano, two basses and drums are Rova, Tin Hat Trio member Carla Kihlstedt on violin and effects; Jenny Scheinman on violin, Wilco and Vinny Golia associate Nels Cline on guitar; Fred Frith, who has worked with Ochs on many projects as a guitarist, on electric bass; and the Bay Areas paramount Free Jazz drummer Don Robinson, a longtime associate of Spearman. Additional rhythm and noise comes from New Yorker Ikue Mori on drum machines and sampler, Japanese-based electro-acoustian Otomo Yoshihide on turntables and electronics and Chris Brown, Ochs associate in the band Room, with electronics.
So whats the result? Well for a start, Robinsons offbeat patterning and percussion exploration is as important perhaps even more important for this Ascension as Elvin Jones drumming was for the original. Not a polyrhythmist like Jones, he nonetheless serves as this creations heart beat. As distorted echoes from the electronics mix with multiphonic vibratos from the strings and power shifting from the saxophones, its Robinsons accented bounces, ruffs and rebounds that serve as bonding glue.
Another standout is Raskin. With many of the sax passages and solos constituted in screaming altissimo here, his basement tones maintain their individuality, and theres even a point midway through, when his tremolo snorts mix it up with the rough snickering of Yoshihides pulsating sine waves to stretch the sound development. It sort of makes you wish a baritonist like Charles Davis or Pat Patrick had made the original date.
Definitely finding a place for themselves on this one are the violinists. Scratching and side-slipping, both fiddlers make full use of sul tasto and sul ponticello runs to mark their sonic territories, sometime adding to the slurred fingering of the other strings with pizzicato fills. Scheinman has a particularly satisfying exchange with Ackley at one point, as she turns from speedy multiphonic bowing to shrilling upper partials, while he works out sour soprano tone variations. All the while Frith is proffering a thick, steadying bass pulse and Robinson detonating disconnected drum cadences and bell ringing.
Distinctive in a sidemans role that gives him proper strictures, Cline contributes cascades of slurred fingering and pinpointed tones, infrequently using knob-twisting and whammy bar finesse to cut through the hiss and flutter of the electronics. His judicious use of distortion extends his flat picking, while the final section has him pumping out a melodic line which builds up to Spanish-styled rasgueado before the final appearance of the tunes head. Instructively, Adams use rapid-fire phrasing and split tones to make his point against Clines chromatic picking. But this is merely more double counterpoint, like Ochs squealing exchange with scratchy violin jettes.
Ochs himself has some irregular pitched, reed-splitting demonstrative outbursts, emphasizing the honking potential of his axe with glottal punctuation. Together the four saxes push the material every which way, though true to their role as preservationists, theme snippets appear every so often.
Anti-electronic traditionalists shouldnt despair either, since the most noticeable electronic interface occurs when curved oscillations from either Brown or Yoshihide answers Clines quivering semi-tones built up with delay and slurred fingering, or when Mori adds her drum-machine textures to the acoustic ones created by Robinsons kit.
As a postlude, drums and guitars produce longer and broader strokes, violins and higher-pitched electronics shrill like the missing brass of the original LP, and everyone joins with the sax choir to gather the disparate strands for a climatic finale.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Ascension, Parts 1 through 13
Personnel: Rova: Bruce Ackley (soprano saxophone); Steve Adams (alto saxophone); Larry Ochs (tenor saxophone); Jon Raskin (baritone saxophone); plus Carla Kihlstedt (violin and effects); Jenny Scheinman (violin); Nels Cline (guitar); Fred Frith (electric bass); Don Robinson (drums); Ikue Mori (drum machines and sampler); Otomo Yoshihide (turntables and electronics) and Chris Brown (electronics)
October 10, 2005
ELD Records ER 2
With European and North American improvisers frequently operating on the same wavelength, the number of cross-continental collaborations has increased exponentially over the past few years.
These are genuine associations, mind you, not the sort of famous-soloist-meets- locals match-ups of the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the more auspicious meetings have involved Biggi Vinkeloe, a German-born alto saxophonist and flautist, who has lived in Sweden since 1988. Vinkeloe, whose European trio recordings have featured such respected bassists as the late Peter Kowald of Germany and the American expat Barre Phillips has also played with Bay area bassist Damon Smith.
Her associates on BLUE REVE show the respect with which her playing is held, since the veteran bassist and drummer have worked with many of modern improvs most accomplished players. Originally from Vancouver, B.C., bassman Lisle Ellis has not only has a longtime partnership with fellow Canuck pianist Paul Plimley, but also regularly plays with reedists -- from upstate New Yorks Joe McPhee to the late Oakland, Calif.-based Glenn Spearman. Another Spearman associate from their earliest days, drummer Donald Robinson also worked with Danish reedist John Tchicai, local altoist Marco Eneidi -- who also plays with Ellis -- plus he, Ellis and reedman Larry Ochs formed the What We Live trio in 1994.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- their credentials theres little sense of awkwardness in this connection with Vinkeloe. One clue: the CDs title and title tune, Blue Rêve is a word play on their initials -- REV. Plus almost all of the dozen song titles are further variations on the title, which translates as Blue Dream in English.
One notable point about Vinkeloe is that she has a bright, sharpest alto tone like Cannonball Adderley -- an attribute not often found among avant-garde players. Frequently, and especially on Mémories de Blues, she shows it off to great advantage. On that piece cymbal resonation and walking bass are lined up with her sunny reed output. Later sluicing double stopping from Ellis and hearty, ratcheting bounces and ruffs from Robinson define their positions as she double and triple tongues and repeats a long-lined tone. With each instrumentalist taking breaks as he would in a conventional jazz jam, the theme is often reprised and the tune has an unmistakable ending.
However, this lack of definite summations mars a few of the other tracks. Missing the final partial, some compositions drift to an ending without a strong summation. Most of the time however, the altoists distinct, pointed tone and the cooperation of the other two give the program a loose, late-night club feeling.
This is apparent on pieces like the title and first track. Vinkeloe makes her point through pointillism, languidly melding steady lyrical tones and straight flowing vibrations. Ellis bass lopes and Robinson applies so little pressure with his brushes that you can clearly hear the inventive bass lines.
This balladic command of the reed doesnt mean that she isnt capable of spraying grainy half tones and mid range pitch vibrations when need be. These irregularly harmonize with the others work. Other times moderato obbligatos that expand sock cymbal beats and single-string bass parts give way to point-making screaming altissimo from the saxist.
Regrettably, Vinkeloe cant always overcome the so-called feminine quality of the flute, and is seemingly content on a couple of tunes to rely on flutter tonguing or clean, airy tones. Luckily her embouchure encourages secondary breaths to be heard along with the tongued note.
For originality, Petit Kamichi and Plus Rien à Dire are more notable flute flights. The former features some scatty, spittle-encrusted flute hisses that become more unsymmetrical as she joins deep bass strums and the timbres of wire brushes on the snare. The later is a rare example of doubled tones, creating one with her horizontal instrument and the other with her throat. Suggesting Scandinavian solitude, the squealing overblowing matches perfectly with bowed bass and wavering cymbals.
With the three musicians combing for a consummate ending when the final note is sounding is it too much of a dream or rêve to hope that there soon will be an encore?
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Blue Rêve 2. Juste Un Mot 3. Aquilion 4. Blu Sud 5. Petit Kamichi 7. Dream Gone Blue 8. Blu Nord 9. Blue Impression 10. Mémories de Blues 11. Plus Rien à Dire 12. Blue is the Moon
Personnel: Biggi Vinkeloe (alto saxophones and flute); Lisle Ellis (bass); Donald Robinson (drums)
December 27, 2004
JOE MCPHEE/JÉRÔME BOURDELLON
Label Usine 1008
Boxholder BXH 045
Different instruments are featured -- including a drum set on the trio session -- but the two CDs here still offer up slices of chamber improv featuring Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. His presence alone is a guarantee that proceedings will be out-of-the-ordinary, although none of the other participants are particularly mainstream.
SYMPATHYs mainman is Vermont-based trumpeter Raphe Malik, an associate of pianist Cecil Taylor and the late saxophonist Glenn Spearman. Bay area drummer Donald Robinson -- who also played with Spearman, as well as bassist Lisle Ellis and saxophonist Larry Ochs -- is the third partner.
Recorded in the Apple, MANHATTAN TANGO features McPhee, limiting himself to pocket trumpet, plus Jérôme Bourdellon on a variety of flutes. Active in left-wing politics, Nancy, France-resident Bourdellon also plays with vibraharpist Alex Grillo and the large Philharmonie du Bon Vide.
Unfortunately his side of the musical equation isnt as strong as McPhees. While McPhee, Malik and Robinson are united in their dissonance, Bourdellons flute is sometimes a bit too sweet and legit sounding. In fact, when the flautist expels purring grace notes on his own, he could be in the midst of a pastoral eclogue, evoking lovelorn shepherds and springtime.
That type of sound has its place, but here it suffers from its near unctuousness. Too often, as on the title tune, McPhee takes on both thematic and rhythmic function, while whistled air from the flute merely decorates the proceedings. Using single pecks, McPhee adds a brassy eruption to his solo that finally spurs gritty cross blows from the flautist. Ending his solo with tongue stops and an almost foot-tapping beat, the trumpeter allows the piece to dissolve by squeezing out unattached tones.
Elsewhere, Bourdellons dulcet bass flute accompaniment on other numbers similarly bends towards purring grace notes, even as the trumpeter snickers through his bell and exhibits rhythmic peeps. With McPhees trumpeting reminiscent of Bill Dixons style: stretches of pure air are mixed with clenched throat timbres, the contrast with Bourdellons often pretty playing can be off-putting.
Only on a couple of tunes does Bourdellons fripple frippery move away from delicacy and ascend to a growl. He adds a final double counterpoint to McPhees vocalized opera buffo cries and squealing howls, on Pearls for Swine. Then on White Street, 17th, both men take off on shrill, polyphonic broken note patterns. After the flautists twitters complement the trumpeters tongue-stopped slurs, the latters cushion of broken arpeggios prevents what threatens to develop into an offbeat version of All Blues. Casting aside melded harmony, McPhee retains the rhythmic bottom as the flautist hits discordant higher notes.
Credited with playing pocket trumpet as well as soprano saxophone on SYMPATHY, McPhees brass work is hard to detect. Perhaps its because Malik improvises in a similar dissonant fashion during the almost 75½-minutes of the CD. There is a point on Hypersonic, when a more hesitant brass sound is heard in contrast to a subsequent trumpet flourish. But considering McPhee then enters with a straightforward saxophone line and Maliks trills gracefully morph into slurs and repeated note patterns, exact identification is certain.
Most of the time Maliks solos revolve around brassy trills and soaring triplets. On pieces like Resolving a Quote, he aims for a hip Cat Anderson-like elevated attack without heading into screech mode -- and this locks perfectly in with Robinsons steady cymbal work and press rolls. Meanwhile McPhee responds with nasal, double-tongued split tones, more Steve Lacy than John Coltrane.
Reference can linked to Evan Parkers style as well, when McPhee produces abstract, machine-like circular breathing at certain points. Slurred, sideslipping obbligatos present no challenge him either, but when McPhee breaks up his solos with extended techniques, theyre often played moderato, eschewing speedy histrionics.
On tunes like Motivic furthermore, both horns appear as two sides of a single coin, with the metallic properties of each stressed. A form of double counterpoint, the piece retains its shape as the saxist plays long solid tones and the trumpeter blurred, higher-pitched fractions.
Throughout, Robinson is the soul of restraint, moving seamlessly from gentle triplets to bell-ringing play-by-plays and open-handed strokes that could as easily come from a bata or other African drum.
The cooperation comes to fruition on Escape Route, the final and longest track. Malik builds his solo out of ascending grace notes, Robinson subdivides the rhythm into bounces, flams and cymbal sticking, while McPhee bends his notes into prolonged curlicues. When he breaks up the reed line into irregularly vibrated partials, Malik expels a lightly muted obbligato behind him, while the drummer follows a third tempo that easily intersects with the other two. Polyphonically the three are like musical fraternal triplets, following each other around, while melding with one anothers lines to make a whole.
Confirmation that in the right circumstances, with a similar understanding of melody and time lines, geographic separation means little, the trio CD should impress those who know all three musicians. Properly challenged Malik turns out some of his most advanced playing since his days working alongside Spearman, as does Robinson.
McPhee confirms his versatility on both discs. As for Bourdellon, technically there are no complaints. Perhaps in circumstances with more instruments present than just one other horn, he would abstain from playing pretty. It will be instructive to hear his next outing.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Tango: 1. Business Hour 2. Pearls for Swine 3. White Street, 17th 4. a.k.a.l.h. 5. In the Noiseless Loft 6. Come Back Ella 7. Mystery J 8. Manhattan Tango
Personnel: Tango: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet and voice); Jérôme Bourdellon (piccolo, C and bass flutes)
Track Listing: Sympathy: 1. Testament 2. Resolving A Quote 3. Velocity 4. Space March 5. Hypersonic 6. Motivic 7. Untitled Dialogue 8. Call and Response 9. Escape Route
Personnel: Sympathy: Raphe Malik (Bb and C trumpets); Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet and soprano saxophone); Donald Robinson (drums)
November 8, 2004
Black Saint 120217-2
More comfortable with contradictions than most North Americans, the French sometimes use the expression beau laide or ugly beauty to describe someone like Jean-Paul Belmondo who is not conventionally handsome, but is attractive none the less.
This concept, which also serves as the title of a Thelonious Monk composition, come to mind when listening to THE NEON TRUTH. Consisting of the abrasive sounds created when the harsh multiphonics of split tone sopranino and tenor saxophone mix with percussive noises from two drummers extended kits, beau laide seems particularly appropriate. With the strident qualities obvious, the beauty arises from skilful manipulation of this supposedly limited palette by top-flight musical stylists.
Take Finn Crosses Mars for instance. On it, saxophonist Larry Ochs begins by piling strident tones one on top of the other. Although his head references Sonny Rollins East Broadway Rundown, his tenor tone is deeper and harsher than Rollins. Moving from elongated screeches and triple tongued, higher-pitched reed biting obbligatos to irregularly vibrated drones, the reedists glossolalia recalls the early days of the New Thing.
Meanwhile drummers Don Robinson and Scott Amendola rumble and rebound with bass-drum pedal pressure and heavy smacks on their doubled snares and toms. As one puts blacksmith-at-an-anvil weight on his drum tops, the other leaps from press rolls to ruffs to blows on the attached triangle. Like a classic soul singer such as Wilson Pickett, the saxist has the ability to temper his reed screams so that they sound several tones not just one. So the dual drummers respond with perambulating snare timbres and focused mallet pressure on ride cymbals. The whole thing is exhilarating but exhausting.
Red Shift offers more of the same at even greater length. Theres no doubt of the metal, wood and skin properties of the trap sets, as hi-hats, sizzle cymbals and ride cymbals quiver, and a collection of rolls, rumbles, smashes and bounces arising from the rest of the kit take on thunderstorm proportions. This squall could be deep in the verdant jungle, as the output from the two percussionists begins to resemble that of a disciplined troupe of African hand drummers. Additionally, closely linked reverberations make you focus on the sort of dialogue that talking drums promote.
If the drum duo is metaphorically performing in a sub-Sahara thicket, then the hornman is several camel rides north of them, creating reed tones with a Magrebian cast. Doubling and triple tonguing as if he was wielding a musette or a ney, Ochs resonates high-pitched tones from deep within the saxs body tube. At times, his wavering timbres and piteous squeals even suggest the cry of a hungry child.
An internationalist, who years ago made a point to play in the former Soviet Union as well as throughout North America and Europe, Berkeley, Calif.-based Ochs is best known for his longtime membership in the experimental ROVA sax quartet. He has also worked with many other bands, some headed by the late saxophonist Glenn Spearman or Canadian bassist Lisle Ellis, the last two of which also featured Robinson. The drummer has played with local saxist Marco Eneidi and kotoist Miya Masaoka, who is also in a trio with Ochs. Amendolas working situations have been even more varied, including stints with rock-influenced people like guitarist Nels Cline and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz.
This multiplicity of roots influences is probably why the musical universalism only goes so far. Sure, these and other tracks might find their germination in traditional chant singing from Asia and Africa, and in one Ochs sopranino line the singsong shtetel blues or Klezmer, but theres plenty of American influences as well. A Native American-style pulse enlivens one track between drum ruffs and pealing bell tree sounds, while the power and raw energy of traditional blues shouters and chain gang harmonizers inform other tunes. Then theres jazz. Part of Ochs sandpaper-like delivery come from the experiments of John Coltrane and he also has the knack of writing blues-like tune that display that sentiment without being formal blues, a trait he shares with Ornette Coleman.
Still the CD isnt without faults. Lacking a chordal instrument there are times that the rhythms becomes too harsh and unyielding, making the ear yearn for some color and gracefulness to add to the rawness on display. In its defense though, the CD was recorded more than three years ago, before the three knew that the Drumming Core was going to be a regularly constituted unit.
With flaws THE NEON TRUTH is a good beginning. But the three must still work to overcome these early problems. Hearing how the trio functions as a band in 2003 should be very instructive.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Wrong Right Wrong 2. The Neon Truth 3. Give Me 209 4. Finn Crosses Mars 5. Xanic Rides Again 6. And Nothing But 7. Red Shift 1 8. Blues Keep Calling
Personnel: Larry Ochs (sopranino and tenor saxophones); Don Robinson (drums); Scott Amendola (drums)
November 24, 2003
JIM RYANS FORWARD ENERGY
Edgetone EDT 4009
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, are all highlighted on the more than two hours of this double-CD set by Bay area saxophonist Jim Ryan. But the nuptials being celebrated here are the successful marriage of some veteran players post bebop improvisations with those from a new generation of North Californian players.
That takes care of the old and new part. The blue(s) feature on a few of these tracks, while the only thing thats really borrowed is jazz music itself, which some would mistakenly deny to someone like Ryan, who doesnt conventionally swing.
A poet, writer and philosopher, Ryan, who plays alto and tenor saxophones and flute on this date, came to the music in Paris during the mid-1960s,after rubbing shoulders with Beat writers such as William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Then he performed with American expats like Steve Lacy and members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Back in the states, and in the Bay area by the mid-1990s, he turned his organizational talents to procuring new spaces in which to play for himself and the clutch of young improvisers who had sprung up nearby. With their constantly shifting cast of characters, these tracks showcase Ryan and his associates in a series of free improvisations.
The veterans include Spirit, a drummer with hairspring reflexes, who is the saxophonists most frequent playing partners here, and part of the Positive Knowledge trio; trumpeter Eddie Gale, who played with Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra; and drummer Donald Robinson a long-time associate of saxophonists like Larry Ochs and the late Glenn Spearman. Younger improvisers include prodigious bassist Damon Smith, who has recorded with British saxophonist Tony Bevan and German bassist Peter Kowald among others; Full Throttle Orchestra leader bassist Adam Lane; drummer Peter Valsamis, who is in the Trance Mission band; and keyboardist/electronics expert Scott Looney, who has recorded on his own and in formations with scene organizer/saxophonist Rent Romus, who also makes an cameo appearance here. Lesser-known West Coast sax improvisers Alicia Mangan and John Waveman Gruntfest also make the cut.
The tunes range from a low-key, three minute Spirit-Ryan duet, and another even shorter one that adds Mangan and Smith, to one nearly 19½ minute blow-out with those two saxophonists, the rhythm section plus Romus and Looney and an even more extensive, almost 31-minute color field examination featuring Ryan, Mangan, Looney, Lane and Robinson.
Besides Ryan, its Spirit, featured on 11 of the 13 tracks, who makes the most of his face time. A minimalist and a timekeeper, rather than a technician, at certain points he makes his presence felt more than heard. Although he apparently uses a standard kit, the sounds heard could as easily come from a bell tree, tam tam, conga drums, or a wood block. Additionally, except for a distinctive cymbal ping, you often wonder if hes using his palms rather than sticks or brushes and frequently cant link a sound to a particular instrument. This is particularly noticeable on Interchange with the Unknown in a trio setting with Mangan and Ryan on alto. Merely suggesting the beat, he clears out enough space for the altoists Aylerian cries and mellow fanfares from the tenorwoman. Combing at points like Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing two horn simultaneously, the carnal tones of the two saxes at times recall Sonny Rollins vivisection of Theres No Business Like Show Business.
Just as prominent is Looney, who with his grab bag of keyboards and electronics frequently earns MVP status. On the almost 18 minute Roto Vision, for instance, constant electronic percussion and subtle drum rolls from Spirit provide the underpinning for Ryan and Mangan playing ring-around-the-rosie on reeds. More notably, Hollow Moon finds Looney as triple threat, supplying at different times, synthesizer washes, internal keyboard exploration and straightahead piano comping as the altoist and tenorist display double tonguing freak notes, split tones and a dogs breakfast of multiphonics.
Showcasing, right-handed, nervous runs on piano and matched by Spirits loose-limbed drumming, Looney and the percussionist come across as a 21st century Cecil Taylor/Sunny Murray duo on Contemplation. The harmonica-like wheeze that opens the track could come from his keys as well, or it could be a floating tone that escapes from the massed saxes of Mangan, Ryan and Romus. Honks, trills, smears, broken clusters and triple tonguing fill the air, with someone -- Ryan? Romus? -- tone-piercing the sky and the other two swabbing the floor with deep tenor notes. Smith has a longed-lined arco section here too, which, unfortunately, is one of the few times hes clearly heard on the disc.
Mammoth, the almost-31 minute History Lesson, which moves from ballad tempo to finger-snapper, gains a lot from Looneys talents as well. At times he punctuates the proceedings with serpentine electric piano-like runs, straight from Chick Coreas early fusion musings, while elsewhere he adds to R&B undertone of the main piece, with some bluesy piano tinkles. Probably titled that way because the composition mixes hard bop, New Thing and Fusion impulses, Robinsons rock solid beat keeps the time steady enough for Ryan on alto to show that fealty to David Fathead Newman and Hank Crawford soulfulness enlivens his avant-garde leanings, while Mangans overblowing honks of pure colored noise fool you into thinking that more saxes than the two featured on the track were present. The only disappointment is that Lanes low-key, rather mainstream solo is under-recorded. On his only appearance on Balls to the Wall (sic) brassman Gale proves that the California climate hasnt dulled his fire.
For someone who isnt well known outside his home base, Ryan has proven that neither age nor isolation can slow down a good improviser. His cohorts prove the same whether theyre grizzled journeymen or still-evolving tyros. Except for a bit of live-recording muddle, theres a whole lot to praise here and the disc(s) should proclaim the saxophonists name to a larger public.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Disc 1. 1. Jump Start*@^$ 2. Shape Shifting*@ 3. Etheric Cleanse*@$ 4. Light Breeze@ 5. Hollow Moon*@^$ 6. Little Dipper@ 7. Contemplation*~@^$ 8. Flute Spirit@ 9. Interchange with the Unknown*@ 2. 1. Balls to the Wall+& 2. History Lesson*^ 3. Roto Vision*^$@ 4. Turtle Boat*^$@
Personnel: Eddie Gale (trumpet)+; John Waveman Gruntfest (alto saxophone)+; Rent Romus (soprano and alto saxophones)~; Jim Ryan (alto and tenor saxophones, flute, percussion); Alicia Mangan (tenor saxophone)*; Scott R. Looney (piano, prepared piano, melodica)^; Adam Lane (bass)&; Damon Smith (bass)$; Spirit (drums and percussion)@;Peter Valsamis (drums)+; Donald Robinson (drums)#
October 14, 2002
(Black Saint 120207-2)
Let us now praise unjustly "unfamous" men.
Case in point: tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman, an emotional, gut-wrenching free blower if there ever was one, who died of colon cancer in October 1998 at the age of 51.
Spearman was a take-no-prisoners blower in the lineage of Ayler, Coleman and Coltrane. A member of one of Cecil Taylor's group, he taught at Mills College in the Bay Area and recorded in a variety of settings, most memorably with his own Double Trio (for Tzadik and Black Saint).
But, because his snaky, informed improvisations were performed in the "wrong" place (Europe and California rather than New York); and at the "wrong" time (the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s rather than the 1960s); he was much less celebrated than he should have been.
This album may do something to redress the situation.
Recorded in four different sessions in 1994 and 1995, it, for the most part, finds Spearman and a sympathetic crew of long-time collaborators working on the spiky twists and turns of his own compositions. What's most remarkable about most of them is how easily they swing, in the most elemental sense of the word. "Blare", for instance is a danceable free jazz blues jam. Meanwhile "Fields Before The Ram" is a shorter, earlier, metre-shifting run-through of "The Fields", one of his Double Trio suites, with its nearly patented descending runs.
Standout colleagues, include saxophonist Eneidi, who shadows Spearman as Robin to his Batman; trumpeter Malik who matches the saxophonist in stratospheric intensity every time he puts his horn to his lips; and the drumming of Robinson (who recorded with Spearman from 1981 onwards), whose touch is so subtle that you hardly notice that he's there at all.
Two tracks are completely different. "Raga Shamwati" blends Spearman's horn with the voices and traditional instruments of South Asian musicians creating a winning east/west fusion. And "The Skin She Bears" has the saxophonist, guitarist and drummer accompanying a poem read by producer Don Paul. The results almost succeed, with Spearman's powerful phrasing nearly making up for Paul's weak delivery.
Despite his shortcomings there, Paul must be commended for getting more prime Spearman on disc. And other un-released sessions exist elsewhere, waiting for mastering and adventurous labels.
It's just too bad that Spearman didn't have a more time and opportunities to create even more.
1) Blare [A] 2. Long Forward Pasts [B] 3. Fields Before the Ram [A] 4. Raga Shamwati [C] 5. The Skin She Bears [D] 6. Graduation [A] 7. Pipes, Spirit & Bronze [B] 8. Lyons Roar [A]
Glenn Spearman (tenor saxophone) with: [A] Raphe Malik (trumpet); Marco Eneidi (alto saxophone); J.R. Routhier (guitar); Lisle Ellis (bass); Donald Robinson (drums) [B] Paul Plimley (piano); Ellis and Robinson [C] Shafqat Ali Khan and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (voice); Dhyani Dharma Mas (acoustic guitar); Tim Witter (tabla); John Baker (synthesizer) [D] Don Paul (voice); Routhier and Robinson
March 22, 2000