|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Michael Wimberly
Charles Gayle Trio
Perverse as it may seem to anyone seeing him perform these days, but gigs with saxophonist Charles Gayle actually feature a kinder gentler Gayle than in the past. Today Gayle concentrates as much on his piano playing as his saxophones, and, apt to throw some standards into the set list, he also usually lets his reeds express his opinions.
That wasn’t so in 1994 as this Santa Monica concert proves. Celebrated as a link to 1960s Energy Music, who had endured neglect and homelessness to maintain his commitment, in the early 1990s Gayle was still treating every performance as a challenge. This makes for an exhilarating if someone exhausting set of more than 70 minutes. Assisted by drummer Michael Wimberley, who has seconded the likes of saxman Louie Belogenis and trumpeter Roy Campbell; and bassist Michael Bisio, now better-known for his affiliation with pianist Matthew Shipp; Gayle was practically indefatigable. Every phrase appeared to flow from his tenor saxophone in altissimo screeches or renal growls, and he wasn’t above lecturing his audience on the benefits of a Christian life and rail against homosexuality, feminism and abortion. In short he comes across as a combination of Pat Robertson and C. L. Franklin plus a resurrected Albert Ayler.
In spite of – or maybe because of – his antithetical opinions, the audience here reacts with rapturous enthusiasm. And indeed it’s hard not to get caught up in the bulldozing power of Gayle’s playing. Taken at a kinetic pace each track is more frantic than the next with the saxophone screams, split tones, reed bites and continuous multiphonics matched by Wimerley’s equally relentless drumming, which bounces ruffs and flams, continuously shatters cymbals and pounds out irregular rhythmic patterns. Against this dual onslaught Bisio is the odd man out, with only the occasional arco run or vibrating double stop signaling his presence.
Gayle was evidentially concerned with his place in Jazz history, with one track entitled “Homage to Albert Ayler” and another “I Remember Eric Dolphy”. In truth the saxophonist pulls off the former more successfully than the latter. During “Homage to Albert Ayler” he almost uncannily mirror’s the late saxophonist’s tone with its extended glossolalia and squealing throat-rasping runs. Phrasing like Ayler, at one point he quotes “Truth is Marching In”. He’s not as successful remembering Dolphy since that musician was more sophisticated and schooled in his playing, compared with Gayle’s essentially primitivist approach. No amount of buzzy clarinet slurps, coupled with yodels and whistles, as well as Wimberley’s rim shots and smacks can disguise this.
This doesn’t negate Gayle’s own qualities expressed in almost-Technicolor-like audio here. Go along for the ride, as on the more than 22½-minute “The Book of Revelation”, and it’s almost as if nothing else exists on a temporal plane. There’s even a surprising sequence where the saxophonist undeniably proves that he can express himself in a balladic mode. Tellingly though, he then reconfirms his commitment to the ecstatic by weaving a solo out of stratospheric squeals and guttural honks. Wimberley’s lumberjack-like smacks and Bisio’s sophisticated triple stopping meet him head on
As exhilarating as an energy drink or a shot of speed, listening to Look Up is also much better for your health than either of those options.
Track Listing: 1. Alpha 2. Homage to Albert Ayler 3. I Remember Eric Dolphy 4. In The Name of the Father 5. The Book of Revelation
Personnel: Charles Gayle (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and voice); Michael Bisio (bass) and Michael Wimberley (drums)
August 23, 2013
Oluyemi Thomas-Sirone-Michael Wimberly
Beneath Tones Floor
NoBusiness CD 20
By Ken Waxman
Best-known when he anchored the Revolutionary Ensemble in the 1970s, bassist Sirone (born Norris Jones) adds his rhythmic power and invention to this exemplary trio set recorded at the Brecht Forum in 2008. But there’s no feeling that the bassist, who before his death at 69 in 2009 lived in Berlin, is anything but an equal partner here. Other band members are multi-reedist Oluyemi Thomas, a visitor from Oakland, Calif., and local percussionist Michael Wimberly.
Sirone’s tough strumming and col legno patterning add the appropriate connecting thread to the 10 tracks which flow seamlessly into one another. Wimberly, whose bass and saxophone associates have included such distinctive improvisers as Charles Gayle and Wilber Morris, knows exactly how to color the proceedings; using cross sticking, focused rim shots and clattering rumbles.
On top of Sirone’s flamenco guitar-like facility and the drummer’s sympathetic understatements, which on a piece like “Silence On The Move” zip from martial pacing to stick friction without losing the beat, Thomas extemporizes equally on all his horns. Beginning a capella, “Heavenly Wisdom” showcases guttural bass clarinet smears mixed with vocalized hums that evolve when the bassist adds a moderato bowed line. Thomas’ soprano saxophone barks move to fluttering tonguing on the title track and elsewhere into disjointed multiphonics. Most notable is the dramatic contrast on “Reflections of Silence, Painting Silence, Images Of Silence” which match the bassist’s wood-vibrating licks with either Thomas’ Pied Piper-like flute peeps or pinched musette shrills.
Sirone’s death means this rare example of cohesive, in-the-moment improvising can never be repeated. Luckily someone had the foresight to record this program.
Tracks: Beneath Tones Floor; ... where Sacred Lives; Mystic Way; Reflections Of Silence, Painting Silence, Images Of Silence; Dream Worlds; Newest Happiness and Joy; Rotation 360 Degrees Hummingbird; Heavenly Wisdom; Silence On The Move; Spirit Of Ifa
Personnel: Oluyemi Thomas: bass clarinet, flute, soprano saxophone, musette and percussion
Sirone: bass; Michael Wimberly: drums and percussion
--For New York City Jazz Record July 2011
July 7, 2011
Live at Glenn Miller Café
Playing alto saxophone rather than his usual tenor, this live set encapsulates New York-based Charles Gayles art bruit. Often described as a throwback to the no-holds-barred Energy Music of the 1960s, the reedist invests his performances with enough verve and perspicacity that its as if that exploratory decade never ended.
Demonstrative as well as discordant, his strident runs and choked vibrato allow him to practically recompose tunes such as Giant Steps and Cherokee. Meanwhile his glossolalia coupled with the strident rhythms of drummer Michael Wimberley and bassist Gerald Benson give standards like Whats New and Softly As In A Morning Sunrise an inchoate dissonance similar to the interface exhibited on shrieking and dissonant Gayle originals.
Often playing altissimo, the saxophonist masticates phrases and timbres, then spits them out double-tongued and with a wide vibrato. The most characteristic work is on two extended tracks. Chasing/Praising The Lord, for instance, arches upwards from Gayles crying split tones and flattement to the trio members alternating strident, resonating instrumental timbres with guttural speaking-in-tongues, evocations of divine mercy and Gods name.
Wimberlys tympani rolls and Bensons legato arco swells bounce and ripple behind the saxophonists yodeling broken tones on Holy Redemption. When he extends the track with Albert Aylers Ghosts tremolo bugle-call-like variations meld with sul tasto bass work and blunt percussion attacks to toughen the familiar theme and make it more abstract.
Live is a characteristic, reflection of Gayles alternately secular and scared art.
-- Ken Waxman
For Whole Note Vol. 12 #3
November 1, 2006
COLD BLEAK HEAT
Its Magnificent, But It Isnt War
Family Vineyard FV35
Live at Vision Festival
Featuring familiar instrumentation, these East Coast quartets give you a glimpse of how so-called avant-garde improv is now either traditional if thats not an oxymoron and evolving.
New York-based Exuberance, featuring some of the busiest advanced musicians in that city, has given itself the ongoing task of extending the sound John Coltrane and other energy players first articulated in the 1960s. With members hailing from Connecticut, Boston and the Apple, Cold Bleak Heat (CBH) mixes traditional theres that word again energy improvisation with minimalistic tendencies influenced by European microtonalism. Each CD provides a valid answer to the overriding question of how to produce memorable free music in the 21st century.
Both of Exuberances reedmen are common buds on the Coltrane tree branch of sax playing. Tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis is best-known for his affiliation with bands featuring former Trane drummer Rashied Ali, while and CBHs alto and tenor saxophonist is Paul Flaherty, whose 30 years of recording and playing usually takes place in New England seclusion. Evocative, each can use advanced techniques to generate a performance by himself.
Bassist Hilliard Greene and percussionist Michael Wimberly of Exuberance and CBHs bassist Matt Heyner and drummer Chris Corsano operate in similar rhythmic circumstances as well. However Wimberlys use of djembe and Africanized vocals brings along the suggestion of ethnic music, while Heyner, who has guided the No Neck Blues Band, and Corsano, who plays with Sunburned Hand of the Man, have a rock sensibility, which they keep under check here.
But the maximum contrast is between the bands trumpeters. Exuberances Roy Campbell, who also plays flute here, is firmly in the Modern Jazz/Free Jazz tradition. He constantly works with bassist William Parker in many situations including the Other Dimensions in Music quartet and leads a jam in Harlem every Monday night. Antithetically Bostons Greg Kelley is an outright experimenter. Member of numerous microtonal aggregations both large and small most notably his nmperign duo with saxist Bhob Rainey his role in CBH is to integrate his unfolding minimalistic trumpet notes with the distending energy sounds of Flaherty and Corsano.
You can hear this abrasive intersection most clearly in the CDs centre section of elongated tunes the almost 13-minute Bloodshot Blink (Vanquished Teeth), the almost 11-minute Raising the Dead (Freezer Fight) and the mammoth, almost 16-minute, in-your-face Love Conquers All, Motherfucker.
Using a blow torch intensity that makes most Trane-influenced saxists sound like Kenny G, Flaherty begins Raising
, for example, with an extended, barbarous screech that promises to deliver what the title suggests. Breakneck slurs, slides and smears are ejaculated in double, triple and quadruple time, gathering the results into harsh vibrations. Irregular bangs are the drummers contribution, and the Heyners string overtones are scratched sul ponticello. Somehow producing a sort of discordant harmony with the saxophonist, Kellys bee-buzzing line seems to be expelled using only his mouthpiece.
Thumping bass lines and almost Native Indian-sounding drum ruffs make up the rhythm for Bloodshot
While the sepulchral reed resonates with R&B-related honks, Flaherty continues by splitting his accented and compressed lines into overtones and nodes. Buzzing and wandering pitches characterize his reed biting output along with atonal broken chords. Octave jumps and irregular, triple-tongued vibrations are Kelleys response along with flutter tongued grace notes. Congruence and double counterpoint bring the horns together.
CBHs ne plus ultra Love Conquers All, Motherfucker, finds Flaherty shouting through his body tube and gooseneck with a banshees vehemence, while also unleashing Aylerian cries of reed-busting vigor. Moving along from languishly slurred flattement and doits, he heads skywards, pursued by Corsanos rolling sticks on hollow drum tops and speedy paradiddles. All the while, Kelley evolves from mouthpiece oscillation to darting single notes to --then ramming out a dense, solid tone. Soon hes triple tonguing around sequenced honks that appear to have been produced by the saxman blowing through mouthpiece sans reed.
The drummers tom-tom-like, war party drum pounding signals a modulation to a calmer pace as Kelleys shaking obbligato accompanies the reedist as if the later was a torch singer. Finale involves the echoing bounces that result from both shouting in double counterpoint through the lead pipe and body tube respectively.
Elsewhere, sounds may be more muted or legato, with the four advancing from rubato cohesion to free-for-all atonalism. But whether stentorian or altissimo the sounds meld into an impressive display of advanced Free Music.
LIVE is notable too, but again in its relation to Free Jazz, rather than Free Music. Throughout Campbell proves himself a flashier trumpeter than Kelley, exhibiting shredded arpeggios and gaudy triplets. But he never moves beyond the bounds of good taste. A four-part suite, titled like Coltranes A LOVE SUPREME, the two shorter final numbers and the first Invocation intermingle the world influences from Wimberlys hourglass-shaped djembe with the contrapuntal muted jazz shakes and irregularly-vibrated tones of the tenor saxophonist.
Frankly, Belogenis mid-period Trane-like pecking runs and vibrated cadences save the first piece from sinking into standard so-called world music, when the cries and drumbeats begin to be extended with Campbells wavering flute timbres. The reedists agitated, multiphonics encourage the brassman to revert to trumpet and begin blasting airy triplets and shakes as descending counterbalance.
Showcase of all this is Procession, where Greene, now gigging with saxophonist Charles Gayle, asserts himself, resonating his strings with thick plucks as well as sounding as if hes hitting them with mallets. During its course, Campbell occupies himself with soaring shakes, while Belogenis is involved in duets with each of the rhythm section members. Aware of the comparisons a drum-tenor duet has with Tranes work with Ali, only here does he improvise with a pronounced (Archie) Sheppian burr as Wimberly outlines a bluesy shuffle beat. Honking and squeaking, he works on overblowing and glottal punctuation. As the drummer exposes his inner Clyde Stubblefield (of James Browns band), Belogenis climaxes with a wide funky honk causing not a few complementing screams from his bandsmen and the audience. Greenes triple-stopping spiccato movements, on the other hand, encourage diminuendo balladic variations from the tenor man. Eventually though, his twisting and swelling arco lines drive the saxophonist to overblow altissimo into far reaches of his reed, ending with animal cries and shredded multiphonics.
Each of these bands can be enjoyed by the committed improv fancier, with Cold Bleak Heat having a bit of an edge for attempting an evolution beyond energy music.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: War: 1. Never Give Em What They Want 2. The Blue Days of Varicose Veins 3. Bloodshot Blink (Vanquished Teeth) 4. Raising the Dead (Freezer Fight) 5. Love Conquers All, Motherfucker 6. You Only Live For Infinity 7. Is That All You Got?
Personnel: War: Greg Kelley (trumpet); Paul Flaherty (alto and tenor saxophones); Matt Heyner (bass); Chris Corsano (drums)
Track Listing: Vision: 1. Invocation 2. Procession 3. Evocation 4. Incandescence
Personnel: Vision: Roy Campbell Jr. (trumpet and flute); Louie Belogenis (tenor saxophone); Hilliard Greene (bass); Michael Wimberly (djembe, drums and vocals)
June 6, 2005
The Other Shore
Boxholder BXH 040
Nurnichtnur LC 5245
Analogous in instrumentation and players experience, these quartet CDs couldnt be more dissimilar. Taken together as a matter of fact, they could serve as a textbook example of the differences between European and American free improvisation.
Consisting of well-traveled veterans of Continental music making, the three German and one British member of Quatuor draw from rock, New music and pure sound extensions as well as jazz when they play. Most of the band members have also been involved in interdisciplinary collaborations with artists, dancers and actors.
Except for drummer Michael Wimberly on the other hand, who has composed music for dance, Exuberances members are out-and-out Free Jazzers, having worked with the genres heavyweights ranging from saxophonist Charles Gayle to bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Ali. Also, as opposed to the rather formal, technical seriousness of the Europeans on their six instant compositions, the Yanks live up to their name here, adding a sense of free-flowing exhilaration to their nine pieces, notwithstanding that the CD is also a tribute to their close associate, the late bassist Wilber Morris.
This doesnt mean that either date is better or less satisfying than the other -- just different. To get an idea of Exuberances formula, listen initially to two tracks that progress largo, one dedicated to Morris, the other that by inference seems to refer to his transmogrification.
Unmistakably a threnody, Elegy for Wilber Morris initially features long time Ali-associate tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis advancing a sorrowful legato line partnered by the faintly bowed bass color of Hill Greene, who has played with Gayle and Cecil Taylor. After a while, Belogenis is spelled by trumpeter Roy Campbell, a longstanding Parker collaborator, whose open-horn, but low key, contributions appear even more melancholy. After quietly double-tonguing a few notes, he falls silent, only returning to meld with the saxman and Wimberlys expressive sizzle cymbal and snare- side knocks for the coda to this understated ballad of remembrance.
Nearly 16¾ minutes long, the serpentine title tune can be interpreted as a celebration of Morris life and a send off for his journey across the river Styx. Belogenis leisurely, but slinky saxophone line shares space with Wimberlys djembe-style, behind-the-beat hand drumming and Campbells emphatic muted trumpet. As the piece evolves, the reedist flutter-tongues and side slips to make his sound more emotional, Greenes bass strings buzz sympathetically like a berimbau and the drum beats bring a senses of finality to the proceedings. Ultimately the trumpeters understated grace notes and the saxophonists smooth lines meld, suggesting that the journey has been completed.
Exuberance also has its playful side however, as it demonstrates on Walking in Loisaida, a loping, polyrhythmic portrait of a Manhattan neighborhood. Campbell works out of a freebop Kenny Dorham bag, while Wimberly comes up with enough press rolls and dropped bombs to qualify the tune as freebop if not hard bop. As the trumpeter slides out some bubbling growls, the saxmans output turns from legato to multiphonic, including off-kilter slurs and the odd honk. Expanding his sound, Greene does so by hitting all his strings at once, torquing the tempo faster and faster. Horn parts meld, then break apart to slacken and end the piece.
Similarly, Afro Eurasion Sketches features a rhythmic current that sounds as if bata drums have been added to the proceedings. Belogenis blurred tone turns grittier and as he progresses chromatically up the scale, the trumpeter parries with a characteristic Afro-Cuban lip vibrato. Simultaneously pulsating and dissonant, the saxophonist tries variations on many tones in Trane-like fashion, while Campbell tongues triplets in counterpoint. With cymbals suddenly exercised, the piece is taunt, but lacks release.
Elsewhere, one or another of the four bend brass notes for effect, try overblown, screaming freak effects, enlarge the string palate or crash and bang with abandon. Going every which way, the tempo changes and glides from fortissimo to pianissimo dont seem to effect their commitment to a beat, even if its usually more implied than emphasized. One tune is even titled Terpsichore.
Meanwhile, over in Germany, the only dance you could imagine Quatuor doing would be robotically led by Mike Meyers Teutonic character from his Sprockets routine on Saturday Night Live. Not that the band members playing is mechanical in any way, its just that the mental picture you have of the Exuberance four wondering through New Yorks Lower East Side neighborhood is replaced by imagining the Quatuohr in white smocks calibrating sound impulses under laboratory conditions. Again though, the timbres produced by these tone scientists are as stimulating in their own way as Exuberances exuberance.
On Mediolobivia, for instance, bass guitarist Hans Schneider, whose experience includes membership in the understated King Übü Orchestrü, exposes both parts of his instrument when he plays. Not limited to the beat-shackled vamps and thumb pops of players like Stanley Clarke, his expanded string flavors include flat-picking color from the guitar and rhythmic plinks and plucks that showcase his bass. Theres also plenty of movement here courtesy of the drums and percussion of Wolfgang Schliemann, but certainly no swing in a Marsalis-sense. His rhythm includes a clock-ticking metronome beat and the whistles and scrapes that can be produced from implements moving along the tops of a ride cymbal and a hi-hat. Schliemann, who usually works as a freelance percussionist in improvised and notated situations, is most concerned with the extension of techniques and instrumentation.
Mini-chirps, sibilant mewls and elongated slurs are the order of the day from reedist Joachim Zoepf, whose multi-disciplinary activities include long time collaborations with fellow sound explorers like pianist Martin Theurer and guitar torturer Hans Tammen. Trumpeter Marc Charig seems to limit himself to expelling pure air or squeezing anemic Bill Dixon-like tones from his cornet. Its a strategy that pays off here, but may surprise those who known the British brassman from his membership in the Soft Machine, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and various Keith Tippett projects.
Or take Hylocereus undatus: Here offside, reverberating guitar picking seemingly taking place near the tuning pegs meet tongue slaps from the baritone saxophone. Showing that an old improviser can still do new tricks, Charig then produces the kind of abstract, protracted trumpet breath that most would associate with younger brass improvisers like Greg Kelly and Axel Dörner.
Schneider too is most impressive. Sometimes his flailing makes his strings ring like a vibraharps bars; other time hell use the heel of his hand as a capo, stopping all the strings for a muted sound then flatpick up the neck; still other places hell merely strum away. While all this is going on Zoepf key pops and forces shrills from his horns. The entire piece ends with a squeezed cornet tone melding with the reverberations from a whacked crash cymbal.
Polyrhymically, Juttadinteria longipetania finds mouthpiece vibrations and muted wah-wahs meeting slurs, honks, whines and growls from the woodwinds. A choked-valve purr from Charig is answered by reed chirps and tongue slaps from Zoepf, while Schliemann appears to be producing irregular woodblock and drumhead rhythms. Among the bass drones it sounds as if theres the impossible proposition that Schneider is somehow playing arco, as the tune resolves itself in a welter of squeaks, whistles, slurs and glottal growls.
Other extended techniques appear to leech even more oxygen for the oral instruments from this scientific workshop cum studio. At one point, for instance, Craig creates mountain top ululatations from his alp horn; then his cornet skips from mouthpiece French kisses to air siren drones. Meantime Zoepf wheezes out a buzzing tone that then reconstitutes itself in a high false register; Schliemann appears to be worrying the sides of his drums with metal stick while hitting the heads at same time, then testing various unselected cymbals for different timbres. Then for a split-second Schneider appears to reverts to his rock music background, shooting out electrified distortions from his bass. Other times he flat picks it like a banjo, and still others manipulates it to produce kora-like tones;
Take your choice of the Old World or the New with these fully improvised sessions. Depending on your tastes, youll probably find much to admire in either or both.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Shore: 1. Offering 2. Afro Eurasion Sketches 3. Fulcrum 4. Walking in Loisaida 5. Terpsichore 6. The Other Shore 7. Exuberance 8. Elegy for Wilber Morris
Personnel: Shore: Roy Campbell (trumpet); Louie Belogenis (tenor saxophone); Hill Greene (bass); Michael Wimberly (drums, percussion, bells)
Track Listing: KUJ: 1. Mediolobivia 2. Stenocereus 3. Juttadinteria longipetania 4. Lobivia jajoiana 5. Encephalocarpus 6. Hylocereus undatus
Personnel: KUJ: Mark Charig (cornet, alto horn); Joachim Zoepf (bass clarinet, soprano and baritone saxophones); Hans Schneider (guitarbass); Wolfgang Schliemann (drums, percussion)
September 29, 2003
Live In New York
Edgetone Records EDT 4018
KEVIN NORTONS METAPHOR QUARTET
Not Only in That Golden Tree
Clean Feed CF011CD
The latter half of 2002 wasnt a particularly good year for improvising double bass players. Not only did German bass master Peter Kowald fall victim to a heart attack at 58 in September, but 64-year-old New Yorker Wilber Morris also died of lymphoma in early August.
Kowalds spectacular work has been justly celebrated, as he was one of the primary European innovators from the 1960s on. But Morris, backbone of many bands from Manhattans Lower East Side was often undervalued, in part because of the number of other first-rate bassists around, and by the mere fact of being conductionist Butch Morris older brother.
Even in a sector as egalitarian as jazz/improvised music, the achievements of one family member often overshadow the other siblings achievement -- recall the situation of pianist Buddy Montgomery and cornetist Nat Adderley to take two examples. Yet most people could tell you that Buddy was almost as fine a blues and ballad player as his guitarist brother Wes; and Nat was not only as voluble and impressively funky in his soloing as alto saxophonist brother Cannonball, but he wrote jazz standards like Work Song.
Initially from Los Angeles, the Morris brothers arrived in New York in the 1970s. Butch soon moved beyond cornet playing to conducting saxophonist David Murrays large group projects and to the creation of improvised conduction. Intuitive and versatile, Wilber was able to play with proto-boppers like drummer Charlie Persip and singer Abbey Lincoln as easily as he fit in with such outcats as Murray, violinist Billy Bang and trombonist Steve Swell. He was the sort of sure accompanist that everyone wanted, whether officially, as a member of percussionist Kevin Nortons Metaphor Quartet, or in a pick-up situation, as when he joined West Coast visitors, multi-reedman Oluyemi Thomas and his wife, spoken work artist Ijeoma Thomas on a New York gig.
That 2001 gig captured on LIVE IN NEW YORK finds him and percussionist Michael Wimberly fusing as if they always were the Thomas rhythm partners, though only the drummer and woodwind player had worked together before, as the last two tracks recorded in 1999 demonstrate.
Throughout the seven tunes recorded at that years Vision Festival, Morris strong, unspectacular bass lines hold the ensemble together, mostly keeping the melody line firm and straightforward and occasionally letting loose with some arco inventions. Even on Mother Africa, which is dedicated to him, the emphasis is on subtlety not showiness. Andante, his solo includes a straightahead walking intro, largo double stopping and the sort of skillful mindset that causes him to measure each string for its possible sound overtones before striking it. He may upend the bass to stroke its strings with his bow, but again his natural reticence takes over, so that what would be a tour de force in anothers hand in his becomes a prelude to fading back into the rhythm section.
Thats precisely what he does here. Considering the front line, its no surprise he and the drummer seem to be taking figurative back seats. With a vocal exposition thats part arousing and part acrimonious, Ijeoma Thomas lyrics range from descriptions of the poetic process itself, to celebrations of heroes and heroines associated with creative Black music. Frequently mere words arent enough and she turns to a variation of scat singing, more often than not blending her vocal secretions with the tones from Oluyemi Thomas mouth instruments.
If anyone doesnt remember that some of the major New Thing figures such as Eric Dolphy, Dewey Redman and Pharoah Sanders were either Californians or spent considerable time there, Thomas playing will prompt you. Dont forget that some of John Coltranes most mystical albums, such as LIVE IN SEATTLE and OM, were recorded in the West as well.
On bass clarinet, Thomas low-pitched exposition and gospelly turns relates back to Dolphy, a supposition confirmed when his wife joins her wordless tones to his to give the bass reed added resonance. On flute and musette his approach is definitely West African like Redmans and Sanders, bringing forth the subcontinent properties of the instruments that presage their Arab usage. This becomes especially apparent when the axes are singly or together paired with rhythm makers like shaken maracas or the unique scratching sound of the elongated guiro, which was used by the Bantu people before becoming a fixture in Afro-Cuban bands.
In his duets with Wimberly and other times on the disc, Thomas uses these instruments to sound out primitivist sound shards and complement the drummers more modern percussion asides and Ijeoma Thomas evocative lyrics with bell shaking and other percussion forays. Additionally, while he might best express himself on the primitive C-melody as well as the soprano sax, his output is pure Sanders-Coltrane, alive with reed-biting trills, honking and squealing lines, exaggerated bent notes and irregular vibrations that are more expressions of emotion than pure composition.
More sophisticated in conception, the pieces Norton wrote for the Metaphor Quartet affirm their individuality through the members instrumental virtuosity, and his combination of narrative, through-composed structures with more typical jazz forms.
Best known for a seven-year association with composer Anthony Braxtons more difficult projects, Norton has also worked with a cross section of other musicians. He and Morris clicked rhythmically in bands led by saxophonist Alfred Harth and Swell, among others. Japanese trombonist Masahiko Kono, who often alters his sound with sampling also worked with the bassist and drummer in the past and has also played with stylists ranging from trumpeter Toshinori Kondo to bassists Kowald and William Parker.
Originally from Nagoya, Japan, vibist Hitomi Tonooka, Metaphor's youngest member, was a student of Nortons at William Paterson University, following her homeland degree in percussion studies. She is also a member of saxophonist Fred Hos Afro Asian Music Ensemble.
Interesting enough, although the sympathies of the quartet members are definitely POMO, the blend of vibes and bone that characterize these compositions recall progressive hard bop from the 1950s which would find trombonist J. J. Johnson and vibist Milt Jackson on the same date. With Kono often relying on cushiony pedal tones and Tonooka using four mallets to slide over her bars, its again up to Morris to steady the course, especially when Norton solos.
No time keeper, when the percussionist is given his head as on the almost 20 minute Missed You in Coutances, Babe, he goes Buddy Rich one better, turning from allegro rumble and thump to faster and faster snare, tom and cymbal showcases. In a change from his steady walking, Morris is almost swaggering in his solo. Guitar-like strumming his strings, he puts more torque into his output, double stopping, slowing down and speeding up his lines, the better to meet Nortons anything-but-traditional accompaniment. The climax is reached when slurred ascending trombone sounds meld with silvery vibe tinkles.
Freebop to the Nth degree, the appropriately named Walking The Dogma, is so traditional with its trombone and vibe blend and walking bass, that it resembles Herbie Manns 1960s hit Comin Home Baby. It is modern enough though, that Kondo gets a chance to expressively peck out some slide positions and Tonooka varies her output from that of a chiming glockenspiel with expansive slides across the bars. Electronics from the bone man and a wooden Bobby Hutcherson marimba-type attack characterize It Must Be, with Norton churning out drags and rolls on his skins and Morris again almost selflessly modulating the rhythm.
As a matter of fact, the only tune that seems almost somnolent is the final one, where rolling ride cymbal whacks and largo, almost bounce-less trombone and vibe connections make the composition seem slower than it actually is. Morris rhythmic thrust seems less lively and more melancholy than elsewhere. Considering that it was recorded about 18 months after the first three selections and six months before the bassist died, you wonder if intimations of his mortality was affecting him and the other band members as well.
Despite this, either CD -- not to mention many, many others -- stand as impressive testimony to the underappreciated skills of Wilber Morris.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Live: 1. Proofs (for Alan Silva) 2. Secrets of Imperfection 3. The Upper Chamber House of Prayer 4. Righteous Intent 5. Ask Eric/Iron Soul (for Eric Dolphy) 6. Mother Africa (for Wilber Morris) 7. In One Heart (for Jeanne Lee) 8. Direct Focus* 9. Beauty is Hidden*
Personnel: Live: Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet, c-melody sax, flute, musette, percussion); Wilber Morris (bass [except*]); Michael Wimberly (drums, percussion); Ijeoma Thomas (spoken word, percussion [except*])
Track Listing: Tree: 1. Missed You in Coutances, Babe 2. Walking The Dogma 3. It Must Be 4. Not Drunk, But Stunned
Personnel: Tree: Masahiko Kono (trombone and electronics); Hitomi Tonooka (vibraphone); Wilber Morris (bass); Kevin Norton (drums and percussion)
August 25, 2003