TOM ABBS & FREQUENCY RESPONSE
Tom Abbs and Chad Taylor: remember those names. One day they may be as familiar as Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones or perhaps Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. For the two young Western-born musicians, who play on both these CDs and lead one each, are prime examples of ascendant thirty-something players who have rejected the false promises of the neo-cons to create their own sounds. Not strident, their compositions and performances, like those created by Chicagos Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), swing, but also includes the sort of technical and rhythmic advances that didnt exist in the neo-con favored 1950-1960 period.
Appropriately enough, Temple, Ariz.-born drummer Taylor was brought up in Chicago, although his association with AACM mainstays such as tenorist Fred Anderson didnt happen until after a sojourn in New York where he met bassist Abbs. Seattle, Wash.-born Abbs stayed put in the Apple after he moved there, eventually organizing the JumpArts Coalition and working in bands with among others, altoist Ori Kaplan, pianist Cooper-Moore and trombonist Steve Swell, the last of whom is featured on TITRATION.
After post-rock and rootsy jazz work with bands led by brassman Rob Mazurek and with tenorist David Boykin, both of whom guest on his disc, Taylor returned to New York. Meeting veteran altoist Jemeel Moondoc, a former Chicagoan, the drummer -- who has since become part of two other trios, Triptych Myth with Abbs and Moore and Sticks & Stones with altoist Matana Roberts -- put together Active Ingredients as a quartet with Swell and Abbs. Taylor is also featured with Abbs band Frequency Response on the other CD, as are two still younger players: tenor saxophonist and flutist Brian Settles and cellist Okkyung Lee.
Just as neither band is made up of neo-con retreads, nor are the players exclusively focused on one style either. As a matter of fact there are times on TITRATIONs four quartet tracks that the combo sounds like an updated New York Art Quartet. Swell, who has worked with the older man, is a modern day Roswell Rudd; Moondocs alto playing is in the John Tchicai tradition and the dual power of Abbs and Taylor equals that of Reggie Workman and Milford Graves.
Visual Industries, for instance has a rubato trombone lead and sideslipping trills and chirrups from the altoist. Subtle to the extreme, Taylor reserves his snares and toms for accompanying Moondoc, and backs up Abbs bow stopping and spiccato with a single cymbal run. Following an exhibition of bass drum power, the theme is reprised by the two horns.
Astonishingly enough, one of the few drawbacks of the CD is that the tunes often seem as if they should be longer, which is why at almost 14 minutes Other Peoples Problems is so welcome. Featuring innards exposing plunger work from Swell, a smeared countermelody from Moondoc and double stopping ponticello vibrato from Abbs, the piece really takes off under Taylors shimmering cymbals. With the saxist sluicing up and down the charts and the bone man producing sibilant grace notes, the bassist contributes some adagio arco color with a gruff sound resulting from pressure on all the strings at once.
Adding Boykin to the mix on the title track brings up memories of both Klezmer and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC), with a trombone instead of a trumpet in the front line. With the bassist walking and the drummer (press) rolling, Swell and Moondoc again engage in impressive interaction, never losing their way as they blow and overblow phrases at one another. More conventional than the AECs Roscoe Mitchell, Boykin produces a honeyed harmonic line, leaving the squealing, double tonguing to Moondoc. After a rumbling thump from the bass and irregular marital pulse from drums, the tenor man reprises the theme and takes it out accompanied by riffs from other horns.
Given three opportunities to make his presence felt Mazurek is most prominent on the too short Absence, which gets its title from Taylor sitting out the track -- the rhythm comes from Abbs playing hi-hat. Still, the cornetists triple-tonguing pales besides Swells spinning corkscrew sounds and fat plunger work. Amazingly enough, as well, the bassist manages to hold the rhythm together with his four strings while sounding the cymbal.
Veteran Chicago percussionist Avreeayal Ra joins the other six players for the Latinesque Modern Mythology, giving an Africanized, bata-like bottom to a tune that bounces along with A Love Supreme echoes. Again, though, its Taylors cymbal work, Moondocs gravelly grace notes and Swells chromatic tones that set the pace.
An impressive achievement TITRATION calls for an encore, but without the guests.
So does CONSCRIPTION, recorded less than eight months later, which also proves that Abbs, like Taylor, can craft new melodies that are memorable and familiar sounding in a good way.
Thats proved on the title tune. Here Taylor playing both vibes and drums combines with the cello and bass to provide a regular beat that Settles uses as a launching pad to spin out passing tones. As he growls out intensity vibratos and flutter tonguing, the drummer bounces and rebounds the beat and suddenly Abbs tuba creates a basso continuum underneath the others. After vibes key resonation and aharmonic cello strokes add to the musical miasma created by bleating scowls from the tenor sax, ringing cymbals presage the cello and tenor reprise of the swinging theme.
Frequency Response can play more outside, as it does on Anti-torpidity, and closer to the mainstream as it does on Redundant Triangulation. On the former, multiphonics from the cellos upper partials join with split tone squeals from the sax. Here the vibes tones hold things together until Settles snickers out higher-pitched flattement, then spiccato bowing from the bassist brings the piece to a satisfactory conclusion.
On the latter, which has a slight Latin feel mixed with echoes of Miles Ahead, Abbs and Lee split the string parts, he with funky low tones and she with screechy shuffle bowing. Settles slurs and growls and Taylor produces rifle-shot-like rim shots which introduces a variation on the theme from the reedist. Finally Abbs andante double stopping leads to a reprise of the initial strand.
Despite its title, Hypertension is a steady swinger for those prepared to hear grainy overblowing and double tonguing from the tenor saxist and diffuse spiccato bowing from both string players mixed with a boppish drum beat. Cello and saxophone act like a unison horn section at one point and the piece fades out with a rumbling bass line.
More Abbs and more Taylor soon please.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Titration: 1. Song For Dyani 2. Velocity 3. Slate*+# 4. Visual Industries 5. Modern Mythology*+# 6. Absence 7. Titration+ 8. Dependent Origination 9. Other Peoples Problems
Personnel: Titration: Rob Mazurek (cornet)*; Steve Swell (trombone); Jemeel Moondoc (alto saxophone) [except 2, 8]; David Boykin (tenor saxophone)+; Tom Abbs (bass and hi-hat); Chad Taylor (drums) [except 6, solo- 8]; Avreeayal Ra (percussion)#
Track Listing: Conscription: 1. Redundant Triangulation 2. Diametric Escalation 3. Conscription 4. Turbulence 5. Dichotomy 6. Hypertension 7. Anti-torpidity 8. Reconciled Dissolution
Personnel: Conscription: Brian Settles (tenor saxophone and flute); Okkyung Lee (cello); Tom Abbs (bass and tuba); Chad Taylor (drums and vibes)
May 31, 2004