|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Gail Brand
Gail Brand & Mark Sanders
Instinct & The Body
Regardless Records R01)
Birgit Ulher/Lucio Capece
Another timbre at41
Halcyon Science 130410
Barnyard Records BR0323
Rent Romus/Vinny Golia
Lords of Outland, Edge of Dark
Edgetone EDT 4112
Something in the Air: Brass-y Women Stand Up and Stand Out
By Ken Waxman
Enhanced freedom in music over the past 60 years has involved more than the addition of new instrumental techniques and compositional strategies. Recasting of gender roles has also taken place. No longer are women instrumentalists expected to play traditionally delicate female instruments such as violins or flutes; or those where they sit demurely such as the piano, harp or cello. This change is most obvious in improvised music, where the number of women who stand up to play has multiplied exponentially. Many have chosen to become brass players, adapting their skills to apparatuses which demands power and stamina.
Take Toronto trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud for instance. The high-quality improvising she exhibits on Halcyon Science 130410 Barnyard Records BR0323 in the company of saxophonist Evan Shaw, drummer Jean Martin, bassist Wes Neal and percussionist Tomasz Krakowiak doesn’t distinguish in any way between her talents and those of her colleagues. During seven group compositions, the quintet vaults back-and-forth from high-energy anthems to more cerebral explorations with equal skill. “Take me To Your Leader” is an example of the latter, as clattering friction from Krakowiak’s noise-makers evolves in stacked counterpoint alongside Shaw’s irregularly squeezed vibrations plus the mouthpiece suckles and tremolo emphasis of Rampersaud. Her rubato slurs and valve squeaks intersect perfectly with the baritone saxophonist’s tongued percussiveness as Martin’s ratamacues, pops and drags presage harmonizing vamps and a final quivering dissolve. Meantime the title tune and Dirigible move with a chromatic gait. The former resembles an Eric Dolphy line, with repeated climaxes interrupted by mid-range honks from Shaw and stuttering pitches from the trumpeter. “Dirigible” stacks timbres so that space between Rampersaud’s staccato and heraldic tone and Shaw’s juddering tempos are obvious. Still a near-bugle call on the trumpeter’s part in the final sequence signals a slowdown to barely there flutter tonguing on her part, accompanied by the reedist’s smooth obbligato, until together they dovetail into muted tones framed by drumstick-rubbing friction from the two percussionists
Atonal textures are even tougher and more staccato on Bay area saxophonist Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland quintet’s Edge of Dark Edgetone EDT 4112 But trumpeter CJ Bourque only really makes an impression on that instrument when she blends her tongued triplets and tremolo flutters with the reed work from Romus and Vinny Golia on pieces such as “Night Nova” and “Over the Rift”. Otherwise the emphasis is on Golia’s peeping piccolo intersecting with double tonguing from Romus, plus electric bassist Ray Shaeffer’s powerful plucks and pops on the former tune or Romus’ irregular split tones plus percussionist Philip Everett’s rolls, drags and smacks on the latter. That’s because Bourque performs another role here, patching in blurry whistles and wavering flanges from manipulated electronics, most noticeably on “Over the Rift” and “Edge of Dark”. Contrapuntal when needed and interactive at other junctures, these jittery and wiggling oscillations outline sequences like Golia’s low-pitched reed slurps, or high energy soprano saxophone lines from Romus, providing the unifying accompaniment that Bourque’s brass obbligatos do elsewhere. Overall, the CD’s texture is as dense and exultant as the fantasy writings which inspired it.
Electronic impulses in microtonal settings characterize the improvisations advanced by Hamburg-based trumpeter Birgit Ulher in a duo with Argentina-born reedist Lucio Capece, Choices Another Timbre at41. Reducing her horn’s output to muted shakes, buzzes and vibrations amplified by a radio set up, Ulher proves that cunning can be substituted for stamina to produce notable improvisations. With the timbres of Capece’s bass clarinet or soprano saxophone filtered by preparations as air is harshly forced through the body tube, Ulher’s capillary pressures and metallic reverberations produce sympathetic polyphony. “Chance”” is the most extended example, with both sound sources juddering and undulating as they combine for both chalumeau growls and strident squeals. With sonic suggestions of a hamster running on a wheel or of wisps of wind wafting upwards, the results are collective not individual. Although distinct strategies such as Ulher's use of a metal plate as a mute to create maximum vibrations, or Capece’s reed bites and tongue stopping elongating tones without resorting to electronics appear, fascination results from tracing the evolution of this disassociated and dissonant sound picture not the ending. Yet the bubbling, shaking, straining and squeaking eventually produce tones that are satisfyingly cumulative and cooperative.
There’s no hint of electronics in British trombonist Gail Brand’s duo with drummer Mark Sanders on Instinct & The Body Regardless Records R01). Plus her inventive attack is powerful enough to banish any thoughts of delicacy. Utilizing sudden brays and nephritic dips into the horn’s lowest tubing, she’s as comfortable with staccato line extensions as bulky plunger swoops. Meantime Sanders uses brushes-on-snares pressure, ruffs and rim shots to advance his part. “Under Orders” finds Brand slithering from one pitch to another and from loopy tailgate burlesque to rapid-fire slide stops without missing a breath. Sanders backbeats and rumbles are just as relaxed. Then on “Tread Softly …” as the drummer slaps and clatters, Brand trades high-pitched whinnies for emphasized pedal-point, blowing chromatically until attaining a variant of serene romanticism.
Women brass players may stand up to improvise. On the evidence of the work here, many also should do so to acknowledge applause.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 17 #3
November 5, 2011
Freedom of the City 2011
By Ken Waxman
Electronics, percussion and home-made instruments were prominently featured in many contexts during London’s annual Freedom of the City (FOTC) festival, April 30 to May 2. In spite of this, some outstanding performances involved the hyper-traditional piano or saxophone.
A snapshot of contemporary, mostly European, creative music, FOTC encompassed sounds as different as electronic processing from the likes of Adam Bohman and Lawrence Casserley; rarefied ensemble minimalism; unabashed free jazz from saxophonist Lionel Garcin’s and pianist Christine Wodrascka’s quartet; an entire evening devoted to the massive London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO); and pianist John Tilbury’s and bassist Michael Duch’s interpretations of Cornelius Cardew and Morton Feldman compositions.
Despite his air of sangfroid Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández created some of FOTC’s most emotional music during his solo set. Alternately tremolo and kinetic or gentled and understated, his cascading reverberations were produced from both inside and outside the piano frame. Repetitive, mid-range timbres were scratched on the inner harp or resulted from locked hands or forearm chording on the keyboard, with pedal pressing and bass clef ostinatos intensifying much of the vigor.
Accompanied by fellow Gauls Garcin, bassist Guillaume Viltard and British percussionist Tony Marsh, Wodrascka’s keyboard command was also outstanding. With patterned chording, positioned arpeggios and wide-ranging dynamics she maintained a high velocity narrative within an interface that, when the bassist struck his bow’s frog on the strings, the saxophonist tongue-slapped and the drummer thumped his sticks, seemed overwhelmingly percussive. Marsh’s shuffles and beats were normally unobtrusive, while Viltard’s sul tasto spanks involved the back as much as the front of the bass. Moving among soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, at points Garcin’s tones were almost identical to Viltard’s stops, elsewhere he projected aviary slurs, reed bites and stuttering reflux.
London’s John Butcher on soprano and tenor saxophone, in a trio with Berliners, percussionist Tony Buck and pianist Magda Mayas, and Oxford’s Tony Bevan playing bass saxophone in a duo with Orphy Robinson on steel drum, bells and marimbula, created more reed prestidigitation. As subtle as Garcin was strident, Butcher’s tessitura varied from chalumeau blows to coloratura circular breathing. Evolving in parallel to these vibrations, Buck’s cymbal scrapes and rim-shots revealed unique dissonance when paired with Mayas’ vibrations strings. Her marimba-like sounds resulted from see-sawing a wire among the piano’s internal strings or banging the instrument’s innards while pressing solidly on its pedals.
Manipulating his mammoth sax with the finesse of someone playing a recorder, Bevan spluttered out diaphragm vibrations that reflected the instrument’s ground-shaking power. It wasn’t all elephantine bellowing however. Supple breath and lip movement allowed for high-pitched staccato breaks and melodies puffed out with tenor saxophone-like facility and tone. Updating his simple instruments’ timbres, Robinson used them not as beat makers, but color-spreaders, resonating pliable vibrations and grace notes from the giant thumb-piano and staccato echoes from the steel drum.
An even wider range of unusual percussion textures was created in a first-time meeting of Steve Noble playing snare, cymbal and Chinese gong, and Paul Abbott using a self-invented collection of drums, cymbals, thunder sheet, different-sized speakers and a mixing board. Replicating the backbeat most drummers need a full kit to produce, Noble struck a small gong for emphasis, rubbed a cymbal onto his snare top, chafed drum heads with tambourines or used mallets to hammer an even smaller cymbal on a drum. Not only did he tap on drum rims, but cymbal sides as well. For his part Abbott responded with a looping electronic drone, interrupted only occasionally by feedback generated by enveloping a small speaker with a hollow floor tom.
In context, the playing of Robinson and Abbott offered more shading than that of France’s Toma Gouband. With a horizontal bass drum as a pedestal, he smashed together or smacked singly with drumsticks or a foot pedal a variety of rocks, stones and bricks, eventually hammering then with leafy tree branches.
Among other appealing uses of electronics was from the duo of veteran Cassidy, signal processing with keyboard and ipad, and young American bassist Adam Linson; plus a power trio made up of Bohman’s amplified objects, Pat Thomas’ synthesizer and Martin Hackett’s electronics. With signal-processed oscillations swelling in power while becoming more granular, Casserley’s strident and abstract textures created a context for Linson’s improvisations which often encompassing col legno sweeps and handfuls of strings pressed simultaneously. At some instances Casserley’s processes amplified bass thumps so that they sounded like marbles striking an unyielding surface; in others the bow movement and triggered sequences were indistinguishable. It was a credit to both players’ innate musicality that the oscillations helped the bassist’s narrative move forward.
Multiplying Casserley’s processes by three, arriving from different sound sources, gives an idea of the Bohman/Thomas/Hackett interface. With his synthesizer pre-programmed, Thomas improvised on the keyboard with free-jazz inflected glissandi, finger jabs and low-frequency vibrations that were somehow melodic at points. Hackett’s rising and falling ostinato cemented the triple connections, although occasionally interrupted by zigzagging outer-space-like whistling. With his table filled with miscellaneous gadgets including a water goblet and a light bulb, Bohman was the image of mad scientist at work even when he produced dense foghorn buzzes. This impression was intensified when he created the sets most stentorian moment, crossing wires for protracted feedback.
Those near-human cries emanating from Bohman’s electronics were paralleled by the retching, burbling, cawing, crying and other vocal extensions of Phil Minton, alongside German drummer Martin Blume and local cellist Marcio Mattos. Spasmodically jerking in his chair as his parlando encompassed mouth-and-throat extensions as characteristic as an old man’s wheeze, a young woman’s whispers and Bedlam shrieks, Minton’s individualized yowls made perfect sense in a concordance that included the cellist’s splayed plucks as well as the percussionist making points by smacking a bass drum, a cow bell and even a hollow wooden box. Minton’s vocalizing was better served in this context than the harmonies he directed from his eight-person, one-child, and one seeing-eye-dog Feral Singers which performed during an LIO interval. Like the orchestra itself, an all-star collection of top improvisers, the effect of both ensembles was that too many imaginative ideas were being offered up too quickly and too frequently from too many players, without proper differentiation or enough time to digest the individual creations.
Although billions throughout the world watched another event taking place in London that weekend: the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, FOTC remained an almost completely royalty-free zone. That is except for the sardonic comments of versatile trombonist Gail Brand. Flanked by drummer Mark Sanders’ subtle and clean technique and pianist Veryan Weston’s delicate clanking and busy chording, she climaxed a spectacular set by verbalizing her views. After slide-extended squeaks and snorts, sibilant tongue flutters, and long-breaths punctuated by the use of different mutes, she muttered “I hate the royal family”. Brand averred that she was further inconvenienced by city travel restrictions in place for crowd control during the days preceding the wedding. Luckily with FOTC, this audience could bypass those distractions to attend a notable musical happening.
--For New York City Jazz Record June 2011
June 10, 2011
Both an affirmation of the benefits of unstructured first-time improvisation and a threnody of sorts for a fallen comrade, Supermodel Supermodel succeeds on its two levels.
Recorded in early 2003, in Oakland, Calif., the 13 instant compositions mark the initial collaboration between London-based trombonist Gail Brand and a group of Bay area musicians guitarist John Shiurba, bassist Matthew Sperry, percussionist Gino Robair and laptopist Tim Perkins. Not everyone even Brand plays on every track of this 71-minute session, with three pieces recorded shortly after the initial dates in tribute to Sperry, who was killed in an auto accident in the interim.
An unshowy rhythm player, the versatile Sperry, who recorded with shakuhachi player Philip Gelb, composer/accordionist Pauline Oliveros and reedist Wolfgang Fuchs among others, adds some characteristic EuroImprov-style clinks and clanks here. But his skill lies in helping make this a CD of supremely group music,
Maneuvering his percussion collection, which includes a faux dax, horns, Styrofoam and an e-bow snare as well as drums, Robair takes a similar stance. Rattling and stroking his cymbals, resonating vibes-like tones and ratcheting, scraping and reverberating different sorts of friction from his trap set, the percussionist is part of the ever-shifting aural landscape, not an accompaniment to it. Surmounting the measured pitter-patter and bounces of Sperry and Robair, not to mention Shiurbas flanged lines and snapping strings, however, both Brands and Perkins timbres prominently protrude from the mix.
On each of the eight tracks on which he plays, the electronics manipulator outputs specially designed signals of various forms. There are wave form oscillations, curving overtones, intermittent buzzes and scratchy pulses. For her part the trombonist, who has been part of bassist Simon H. Fells quintet and recorded with guitarist Derek Bailey isnt fazed by electronics or ever-shifting rhythmic pulses. Her band Lunge usually features two players who extend their keyboard and violin textures with electronics. On the one Brand-Perkins duo here, she constructs a shuddering horizontal line on top of his triggered sound envelopes, then growls and snorts through the resonating burbles as if they are transparent.
Situations build more organically on pieces like Stephanie Stephanie and Iman Iman, inexplicably named like the other tunes for world-class fashion models. The later matches cymbal cracks, chromatic guitar licks and sliding stops from the bassist with wiggling electronic oscillations. Taking all this in stride, Brand builds a series of sensuous capillary purrs into a climax of flutter-tongued plunger tones that surmount focused guitar runs and droning electronics.
The former tune finds her using circular treble tones and lip-blubbering plunger digressions to dovetail with percussion slaps and the bare hint of arco bowing. Elsewhere her jocular brays and snorts mesh with rapid knob-twisting to germinate quivering parallel reverberations.
Sperrys unexpected death means that this one-off aggregation cant be reconstituted. The CD itself, however, is both an impressive memorial, as well as a bittersweet souvenir of Brands and the other players in-the-moment interactions.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Naomi Naomi 2. Christy Christy 3. Christie Christie 4. Twiggy Twiggy 5. Tyra Tyra 6. Stephanie Stephanie 7. Cindy Cindy 8. Iman Iman 9. Kate Kate 10. Kathy Kathy 11. Elle Elle 12. Linda Linda 13. Claudia Claudia
Personnel: Gail Brand (trombone); John Shiurba (guitar); Matthew Sperry (bass and preparations); Gino Robair (percussion, faux dax, horns, Styrofoam, e-bow snare) and Tim Perkins (laptop)
October 10, 2006
SFQ [SIMON FELL QUARTET/QUINTET]
Red Toucan RT 9376
Over the past 20 years, Yorkshire bassist Simon H. Fell has segmented his work between writing large scale compositions for massive orchestras of horns, strings, brass, percussion and electronics and playing bass as part of turbulent improv combos -- usually in trios with a saxophonist and drummer
Four Compositions, a two-CD set, appears to be an almost wholly successful attempt to reconcile the formal and audacious parts of his musically schizophrenic personality. As a matter-of-fact, while the first disc, subtitled Three Quintets shows how far he has evolved in creating for his by then-established quintet, Liverpool Quartet, for an even smaller group confirms that accomplished creations can result from an even-more-relaxed milieu first time out.
Most impressive is the work of French hornist Guy Llewellyn. A specialist in contemporary classical performance, who has also worked with such Fell associates as drummer Paul Hession and saxist Alan Wilkinson, he brings the flexibility and colors of a slide trombone to his work here. Sharing the front line is clarinetist Alex Ward, who often works in duo with drummer Steve Noble, featured on the other disc. Ward whose playing partners have ranged from Britimprov godfather guitarist Derek Bailey to Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore is capable of pulling as many twisted notes from his ebony stick as Llewellyn can muster from his horns tubing. Drummer and electronics manipulator Mark Sanders is first call for many Britimprov situations, in combos led by saxists such as Paul Dunmal, for instance, or as part of the band Lunge, with trombonist Gail Brand, who also plays on CD1.
Oddly enough, while Fell in the notes maintains that the pieces written for the concert in Liverpool captured on the second CD, reflect a move away from jazz to connect with contemporary classical and experimental music, some of the tracks appear more overtly jazzy than the pieces on disc one. Especially obvious is the transparently titled GM2 Blues which floats on a Mingusaian bass line from its composer. Taken staccatissimo its most notable for a near-gutbucket solo from Llewellyn that somehow polyphonically intermingles the influences of Kid Ory and George Lewis. Wards high-pitched trilling often in harmony with curt, mellow horn lines, only adds to this, as do Sanders snare drum and hollow hand percussion accents. Most audible here than anywhere else, Fell contributes pedal point action to fling the piece forward.
GM3 Rhythm also reflects its title, as horn lines coalesce into a jaunty air that features steady rhythmic accompaniment from the drummers rumble and bounces plus a walking line from the bass. Although the harmonies break apart as the tune unrolls, neither the hornists twisted triplets and buzzes nor the clarinetists double-tongued, stray cat-like yowl detract from its unhurried pace and connection.
Notwithstanding sequenced fluttering from Sanders electronics, this jazz/improv disposition remains throughout the second two-thirds of the disc in pieces like Quartet and Liverpool 2. The latter features reverberations distorting bass drum pedal pressure and hi-hat volleys with doorstopper resonation. Yet these and subsequent polyrhythmic snaps and taps from rims and cymbals conform easily with the others output. Ward shrills chirped notes, Llewellyns thunderous lower-pitched one and Fells ponticello sweeps fit it all together. Finally, theres a coda of mewling smears from the clarinet, lip-buzzing police siren obbligatos from the horn and the drummer melds the textures with nearly weightless pings on his cymbals, likely produced by striking with the telescoped wire strands of brush handles. Quartet, with its whistling breaths and bleats from the French horn, reed-biting, purring whines and wiggles from the clarinet and ringing buoy approximations from the drummer works into a finale thats all intermittent reed vibratos.
Kandinsky Lines, the final track also has much more to do with the timbres produced by the pizzicato and arco bass then the brush strokes of a painting. With the virtuosity you associate with jazzers, Fell bends spiccato playing and jettes to his purposes, creating tones from the four-string reminiscent of those youd get from an upended guitar. Turning to the bow, his theme variations become more serene, finally mixing it up with elongated clarinet glissandi and plunger horn textures. With Sanders staying very much in the background, Fells echoing sul tasto and sul ponticello rhythms define the closing, with a coda made up of reed trilling, French horn vibrations and drum set tapping and popping.
His working group up until then, the quintet featured on CD1 intensifies the favorable impression it had already made with 2001s THIRTEEN RECTANGLES on Bruces Fingers. Fell -- obviously -- and Ward are both present, along with trombonist Brand and drummer Noble. A prime addition is a pianist Alex Maguire, a longtime mate of Nobles, whose other associations include Netherlands-based bands led by reedists Michael Moore and Sean Bergin.
Gruppen Modulor 2 in five sections, is the core of this performance, with Fell likening this nearer to modern jazz, 24-minute plus composition influenced by Stockhausen, George Russell and architect Le Corbusier.
Architecturally, this sound edifice seems to have been reconfigured out of many already existing structures. Beginning in the house of jazz, the first few minutes are vaguely reminiscent of Mingus Boogie Stop Shuffle with walking bass, extended flams and snare beats from the drums and carefully voiced, unison horn slurs and trills. As the clarinetist double tongues in the altissimo register, pedal pressure emphasis from the piano and metronome-like time keeping from percussion keep things on an even keel.
One third of the way through the variations take the form of ascending plunger notes from Brand and tap-dancing-like timbres from Nobles brushes and snares. Soon sharp slurs and growls deliberately twirl in a form of brassy resonation from the bone, as Wards low-key, but polyphonic obbligatos suggest a double horn blend more related to Classic than so-called modern, jazz.
As the drummer maintains a uniform pulse, non-jazz, but still syncopated movements appear, as Maguires earlier comping takes on denser overtones causing Brand to relax into longer lines as well. Fells contribution takes the form of oscillating pedal point bowing, producing enough further theme variations that recapitulation of the initial theme almost passes by unnoticed. Finale features unforced piano keyboard dusting and lightly propelling trombone tones.
Composition No. 40.5d: Trapped By Formalism 2 the almost 12½-minute piece with its mouthful of a title that precedes Gruppen Modular is called probably the most notation-intensive piece in the quintets repertoire. But even here the bands familiarity with improv and jazz forms prevents it from being trapped by formalism.
Although the episodic first few minutes may relate to New music, a few bars after that the piece has opened up into semi-swinging calls-and-responses from the horns, high intensity piano tinkling, walking bass and downshifting drum beats. And it continues this way.
Showy, 19th century style piano cadenzas lead to whizzing contralto reed lines and modified plunger marching-band cadences as rattled and snapped clave notes rebound from the drum kit. Can it be cowbell rapping thats heard as well? Should the trombone buzz and snicker, then the piano reverts to semi-romantic cadenzas. Further on, hard and heavy low-pitched brass grace notes mesh with the drummers backbeat, while a languid trombone line precede a loping section from all concerned -- although Noble does sound as if hes playing kettle drums. Brief single-note keyboard accents and vibrated horn harmonies make up the coda.
Putting aside rhetoric, these five and four-person aggregations appear to give composer Fell the perfect vehicles for his neither-fish-nor-fowl compositions that call on more than the jazz and improv traditions. On these CDs of exhilarating writing and performance, the quartet has a slight edge. Secondly, the creations also whet the appetite for further large-scale works from the composer.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Disc one: SFQ1 - Three Quintets 1. Composition No. 50: Köln Klang 2. Composition No. 40.5d: Trapped By Formalism 2 3. Composition No. 62b: Gruppen Modulor 2: 3.1 Statement 1 3.2 Statement 2 3.3 Interlude 3. 4 Blues (Statement 3) 3.5 Coda Disc two: Composition No. 70: Liverpool Quartet 1. Liverpool 1a 2. Liverpool 1b 3. GM2 Blues 4. Quartet 5. Liverpool 2 6. GM3 Rhythm 7. Kandinsky Lines
Personnel: Disc one: Gail Brand (trombone); Alex Ward (clarinet); Alex Maguire (piano): Simon H. Fell (bass); Steve Noble (drums) Disc two: Guy Llewellyn (French horn); Alex Ward (clarinet); Simon H. Fell (bass); Mark Sanders (drums and electronics)
January 31, 2005
Axis Of Cavity
Bruces Fingers BF 40
Bruces Fingers BF 43
Simon H. Fell doesnt see consistency as a virtue. My type of listener, he once said, would be someone who would pick up one of my records and say, What the hell is he doing now? Im intrigued
Ill find out. Over the course of his 20-odd years of playing what he describes as experimental music, The Cambridge, England-based bassist and composer has involved himself in varied improv situations.
A participant in guitarist Derek Baileys Company Week, Fell has also worked with electroacoustic composer Martin Archer, been a members of the ethereal IST trio and backed up hard blowers like saxophonists Peter Brötzmann, Alan Wilkinson and Mick Beck. In 1998 he garnered unprecedented praise for mixing and matching improvisers, a big band and a chamber ensemble in COMPOSITION NO. 30/COMPILATION III for (Bruces Fingers BF 27 CD), that also seemed to join many streams of sound together into an eclectic 20th century whole.
Yet anyone who thought he had figured out Fells modus operandi from any one of those earlier discs may be thrown for a pleasurable loop with these two new sessions. The Badland band featuring Fell, alto saxophonist Simon Rose and drummer Steve Noble working out on nine free improvisations, while SFQ joins Fell and Noble with trombonist Gail Brand, clarinetist Alex Ward and pianist Alex Maguire performing a more-than-70-minute suite of un-hyphenated jazz.
Akin to earlier power trios Fell was involved in with the likes of Wilkinson and drummer Paul Hession, Badland is a rip-snorting combo that on this disc struts its stuff on nine improvisations, or if you prefer, instant compositions. Ostensibly, the main difference between Rose and many of Fells other reed partners, is Roses background in so-called world music. However, except for some passages on the final track where he seems to be getting an Arabic tone in his repeated trills and smears plus his creation of a coda of recurrent phrases, free jazz informs the reedists work more than anything else. Oh, there is a point on Arm of the Sea where reverberated notes appear to be magnifying to such an extent that the sax sounds like a bagpipe. But Roses work with drummer Ken Hyder, who specializes in both jazz and Scottish music may account for that.
The altoist, who insists that he tries to experience music in other cultures, does create some unique hunters horn sounds from his axe on the quieter, more atmospheric Groove For Deep Branch. Here, using circular breathing to extend and multiply various notes fits perfectly with Nobles cymbal work and Fells plucked bass. Elsewhere, though, it would seem that the saxist improvises at only one intensity -- high. Thats fine if his tongue slaps, reed kisses, whistles, exaggerated vibrato, screeches and whines in the shriek register fit with the bassist scratching out more and varied tones or Noble going at his kit full force. But there are times that the more low-key forays of the bassist and the drummer, whose past associations have included clarinetist Ward, conduction pioneer Butch Morris, and who can almost replicate the tone of a glass orchestra, have to struggle to be heard. On The Temporal Bones, for instance, if Rose didnt appear to be confining himself to playing his mouthpiece, the sound of Fells minute bass scratches and Noble cannily spinning items on his drum tops would have been lost.
Luckily everything falls into place on Surface For Talice, AXISs more than 12-minute centrepiece. Here Roses mouse squeaks and repetitive trilling smears and honks submerge into irregular air vibrations as all three instruments mesh in near silence. Other times, when not cymbal scratching, Noble showcases some upfront flams, while Fell can be heard perfecting a peg and wooden body explorations of the bass, ricocheting his bow off his taunt strings and even indulging in the sort of semi-traditional walking that characterizes SFQ.
Performing 16 (sic) Fell compositions inspired by paintings by Wassily Kandisky, THIRTEEN combines notated and improvised material using the literal reading of color blocks to determine written material, pitch range use and tone colors. All recorded in one take, the excellence of the disc is as much a tribute to the cumulative talents of the five musicians as the bassists writing and arranging skills.
Frankly, the description of the compositional process makes the music on the CD appear to be more complex than it actually is. Notwithstanding the wordiness, its merely Fell coming to grips with what he calls the classic jazz quartet/quintet arrangement
an organic, flexible band of wind instrument(s), piano, bass and drums.
This shouldnt been confused with those attempts at jazz revivalism practiced by neo-cons however. No running through of standards with standard voicings, this music can be seen as the spiritual extension of, to coin a phrase, the sort of experimental hard bop that people like Gigi Gyrce, Benny Golson and Oliver Nelson created.
Another difference is the instrumental make up of the band. Tony Scott was probably the only (hard) bop clarinetist, but Ward, a long time associate of drummer Noble, welcomes POMO influences, having played with musicians as different as Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne and Morris. Trombonist Brand, one of the most impressive brass soloists of her generation, is part of the Lunge group with Phil Durrant on violin and electronics, Pat Thomas on keyboards and electronics plus percussionist Mark Sanders, another Fell associate. Maguire, another mate of Nobles, studied with John Cage as well as jazz pianists, and now performs in jazz groups led by saxophonists like the American Michael Moore, the South African Sean Bergin and Briton Elton Dean.
Long-time Fell fans will probably note the prototypical chromatic passing tones in his walking bass lines. Thats because the quarter note rhythm is often needed to showcase the subtle historical jazz references in this almost-continuous piece. Early on, a Brand and Noble exchange come across as if they were a supersonic version of Curtis Fuller and Art Blakey. Much later, with her plunger mute -- and perhaps tongue -- firmly in place, a quasi-Trad section unrolls, with the trombonist in the Kid Ory role, Ward coming across like Jimmy Noone and Noble smashing out hard two beats like a reincarnated Baby Dodds.
While all this is going on, however, Fell produces metallic-sounding scratches from his bass, a sequel to his earlier nearly inaudible solo -- turn the volume knob way up to hear it -- where you can hear him bowing and scraping simultaneously. Not only does he explore the basss darker regions, but he also tortures the wood to get unexpected tones.
Historical parallelism isnt all thats on offer however. Midway through the suite, one track finds Ward dedicating one part of a solo that morphs from sparrow to cricket tones to a fast, clean, almost Benny Goodman-like light sound. Despite that, Noble appears to have decided that the perfect companion to this quasi-Swing is Sunny Murray-style percussion door knocking. Maguire adds steady, forward-moving piano chords, while Fell slides up and down his bass strings.
Other times when Maguire sounds out those familiar left-handed, jazz-chords, it appears that Fell is torn between walking like Paul Chambers or slapping the bass like Pops Foster. Eventually he decides to do both. Later, clarinet key pops are met with flowing arco bass swoops, which -- with the pianist suddenly presenting what sound like conventional romantic themes from his keys -- could for a short time be mistaken for a chamber recital as the clarinetist joins the piano and bass with his most legit-sounding tone on the disc. That lasts until basso smears from the trombone and differing percussion patterns fragment the piece into improvisation.
One could go on trying to describe further patterns, as when the low notes of the trombones theme move in counterpoint to squeaky clarinet lines, or when two or three instruments combine into small groupings, before breaking off, amoebae-like, into several other links. Whats most impressive is that Fell doesnt draw attention to this musical legerdemain, but subtly allows things to change organically, so that the next section has begun almost before you remark upon the change.
All in all, it would seem obvious that Fell has solved the puzzle of how to successfully write an extended work for a classic jazz combo with THIRTEEN and produced remarkable sounds with that group. Plus when it comes to the so-called traditional free improv trio, AXIS shows that he doesnt do that too badly either.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Axis: 1. Axis Of Cavity 2. Arm of the Sea 3. Groove for Deep Branch
4. Surface for Talice 5. The Temporal Bones 6. Birdie 7. The Scapula Angles 8. Spinous Prowess 9. Bow, Stick and Reed
Personnel: Axis: Simon Rose (alto saxophone); Simon H. Fell (bass); Steve Noble (drums)
Track Listing: Thirteen: 1. Start Frame + Soft Hard (Interpolation 1) 2. Rectangle 1 3. Rectangle 2 4. Rectangle 3 5. Rectangles 4 & 5 6. Rectangle 6 7. Rectangle 7 8. Soft Hard (Interpolation 2) 9. Rectangle 8 10. Rectangle 9 11. Rectangle 10 12. Rectangles 11 & 12 13. Rectangle 13. Soft Hard (Interpolation 3) + End Frame
Personnel: Thirteen: Gail Brand (trombone); Alex Ward (clarinet); Alex Maguire (piano); Simon H. Fell (bass); Steve Noble (drums)
September 30, 2002
Think of most memorable examples of British improvising over the past three decades and the front line sound that comes first to the inner ear is that of the sonic advances made by saxophonists such as Evan Parker, John Butcher and Paul Dunmall.
Aiming to redress the balance, Dublin-born Ian Smith has recorded this skillful example of BritImprov at Londons Red Rose club without a reed in sight. Besides Smith on trumpet and flugelhorn, the CD features two exceptional young brass boosters -- trombonist Gail Brand and tubaist Oren Marshall -- as well as two veteran improvisers, guitarist Derek Bailey and Veryan Weston, playing a so-called early music chamber organ.
Mixing and matching the five musicians on the CDs 14 tracks, this is no vanity project for Smith -- he and the other horns dont even play on two selections. But with the luck of the Irish, hes certainly ended up with an exceptional report on the state of British brass finesse in the 21st Century.
Smith has played on hip hop and classical sessions as well as with the London Improvisers Orchestra, as has Brand, who is also a member of bassist Simon H. Fells quintet and the Lunge quartet. Those two, plus Marshall, a tubaist usually employed in classical circles, and who impressively held his own on a trio disc with Butcher and Bailey make up The Temporary Brass Trio. In addition, over time, Marshall has developed individual improvisation techniques including deconstructing his instrument with an assortment of hooters and whistles in place of valves.
Judging from the earth shaking blasts that occur from time to time, his axe doesnt seem to be deconstructed here, but he may be the party tooting what sounds like a penny whistle on Don't even think about it and Windsurfing.
With the ensembles ranging from duos to quintets, everyone gets to strut his or her stuff. Especially impressive is Air Apparent where Westons keyboard continuo gives the brass trio a platform on which they can exhibit how musical the sound of breath being forced through mouthpieces and valves can be. Slow moving, Hidden, the only brass trio number, shows the three sounding each of their respective instruments pitches and then altering them. Its probably Brand, though, who figuratively converts her sackbut to an alp horn part of the way through.
With only Bailey on-side, Smith has enough room to feature himself on Coffee and he responds by exploring all of his instruments registers, producing dog growls, fanfares, miniscule mouthpiece squeaks and tones so muted they sound as if they come not from inside his horn, but from within his throat. Meanwhile the imperturbable guitarist blithely strums away. Smith passes that baptism by fire nicely and later on proves that he can come up with enough ideas to take Butchers place in an echo of the trio disc Bailey and Marshall recorded with the saxophonist.
However as a quintet or quartet with Weston, it often seems as if its the organist who must go mighty-Wurlitzer and take up all the sonic space he can to prop up the horns and get them to start spitting out notable improvisations. With a sonority that skates from that of a circus calliope to one resembling a primitive synthesizer, Weston sometimes makes the horns speed up and chase one another like a litter of cats. They differentiate themselves with reverberating blats from the tuba, quicksilver melodies from the trumpet and choked half-valve effects from the trombone.
Besides the apparent inability of the brass to horn in on the improvisations of their elders, the disc has other weaknesses. Most obvious is that despite the song titles, there seems to be an absolute lack of levity on the session, Maybe Smith was so concerned with making a brass statement that he neglected the lighter part of the equation. No blarney-sprouting stage Irishman he. Coupled with this, is that none of the brassfolk displays the sort of full-fledged self-sufficient identity yet that Brand, for one, has shown on other sessions. Theyre good players, of course, but no style or phrase defines them completely. Contrast this with Bailey. From the first note he sounds on There We Are you know exactly who is playing that guitar.
Still, considering that the 71-year-old plectrumist has had an entire lifetime to create himself and that the three horn players are young enough to be his children, their labors here augur well for their future. If all keep theorizing and studying, while playing and recording at this high level, well soon be able to note their individualities as easily as we hear Baileys.
DAYBREAK, as the title suggests is strong illumination towards that goal.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Daybreak 2. Falange, falanginha, falangeta# 3. Carpe dentum*# 4. There We Are*^# 5. Coffee^ 6. Blás*# 7. Function of the organ* 8. Don't even think about it*^# 9. Closely Linked^# 10. Air Apparent*# 11. Sometimes*^ 12. Hidden# 13. Windsurfing*^# 14. Go On^
Personnel: Ian Smith [all tracks but 7 & 11] (flugelhorn, trumpet); Gail Brand (trombone)#; Oren Marshall [all tracks but 5, 7 & 10] (tuba); Veryan Weston (chamber organ)*; Derek Bailey (guitar)^
December 10, 2001