Burton Greene +Open Field

August 11, 2015

Flower Stalk
Cipsela Cip 002

Laurence Cook/Burton Greene
A 39 Year Reunion Celebration
Studio 234 011

One of the advantages  of Free Music is that a mature stylist can play with just about any sympathetic musician of any age or be able to find common ground with fellow experimenters, even if their collaboration faces a long interruption. Apt demonstrations of these concepts are found on these sessions.

Amsterdam-based American pianist Burton Greene, 77, has been played Free Jazz since the early 1960s with associates ranging from drummer Sunny Murray to bassist Mark Dresser. On one of the outstanding discs here, his partner is Boston-based drummer Laurence Cook, 75, who has worked with everyone from pianist Paul Bley to trumpeter Bill Dixon. The seven tracks pick up from when the two last played together approximately four decades ago. Coming from the opposite direction is Flower Stalk, an equally notable first-time musical conversation involving Greene and Lisbon’s Open Field trio. Violist João Camões, guitarist Marcelo dos Reis and bassist José Miguel Pereira have worked with local and international improvisers like German percussionist Burkhard Beins and Portuguese violinist Carlos “Zíngaro”. None were born the last time Cook and Greene met musically.

Comfortable in most situations, Greene’s distinctive hunt-and-peck improvisations are quickly in the forefront on A 39 Year Reunion Celebration. In fact, by the time “Pussy Cat Says Meeow”, the second track, with its sinuous, meandering structure, is being explored; equally versatile Cook is matching the pianist’s light-hearted leaps and squirms with his own inventive double ruffs and cymbal rotations. Low slung percussion rhythms and measured key slaps meld by the end.

That’s pretty much the strategy throughout the CD. With the comfort of silky bed sheets added to provide a cozy repose, Cook’s sizzles and shakes add warmth and volume to Greene’s slack key excursions. A mixture of lamentations and love songs, inspiration appears to arrive from tunes that suggest both Hebraic dirges and Tin Pan Alley. As for speedier tracks, both veterans have enough velocity command that they could be 50 again. “Mark IV (1962-2005)” and “Insider Trading” are instances of this, additionally mixing the past and future. With its up-to-date title, the staccato and sardonic “Inside Trading” gives both players equal time. Buzzing with elation, the drummer turns washboard-like scrubs and cowbell emphasis into forward moving beats, while the pianist’s key slaps and tremolo harpsichord-like accents pinpoint the theme as it evolves. An updating of a tune Greene outlined on his earliest recording. “Mark IV” is a multi-stylistic journey through keyboard tones, with moody strolls replicating a paintings final brush strokes, which are initially illustrated with vivid aural colors. Not spoiling the broth this Cook adds odd-metered, cymbal-driven tincture extensions to the performance, resulting in an exhilarating finale where the head is recapped at supersonic speeds.

The concluding “Desert Suite” which appends a John Zorn line on a Greene original proves the duo can sympathetically expand as well as swing extravagantly. Unhurried as a caravan slinking across the desert – a metaphor strengthened by Cook’s clip-clops – the dark and mysterious chord structure is given added emphasis as the two pass the melody from one to another. Eventually sympathetic glissandi and hardened rat-tat-tats bring the journey to a satisfying but no less exciting ending.

Embedded in Open Field creatively as he is with Cook, Greene magnifies the string trio’s textures, by producing as many lines from the inner strings of the piano harp as the keyboard. More crucially, with his innate skills, he helps move the fiddle sweeps, bass plucka and guitar snaps away from aleatoric asides towards a Jazz-like interface. Occasionally, as on “Greene Hands” he’ll burlesque so-called classical music keyboard showiness to mock their slides towards mannerisms. He also uses his instrument’s percussive powers to push strident pitches into tunes that are equally as frenetic but more directed. Throughout each Open Field member begins one or more of the tracks, sets up the parameters that define whether the piece become an exercise in hushed, inner directed tones or outwardly directed color field augmentations.

With Pereira dedicated to scratching and plucking reasonable connectivity from his strings, the other two who are more upfront. Sharply swinging as “On the Edge”, Camões’ viola lead often seems intent on magnifying every glissando, sweep and angle as he figuratively scrapes the rosin from his strings. The others’ responses bring out shaking bell-like pressure from accumulated “little instruments” plus high bass string pops. Dos Reis’ unique nylon-string finger picking gives the tracks a unique resonance which is further expressed when his counter-tenor almost feminized vocalizing is added to the improvisations. Greene who did his share of singer accompanying in the day, animates these outbursts, injects tango allusion on “Ancient” and once the others loosen up with buzzing strings and pseudo-percussion, musically compliment and verbally complements the unbridled freedom these younger musicians bring to their playing.

After more than a half-century as a professional, Greene maintains the inventiveness that first got him noticed in the early 1960s. As these discs demonstrate his skill is such that he can as easily stomp out Free Music variations alongside an old acquaintance. He can also meld enough with a crew of younger players to attain more memorable improvisational sounds.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Reunion: 1. A 39 Year Reunion Celebration 2. Pussy Cat Says Meeow! 3. A Lamentation 4. Mark IV (1962-2005) 5. Insider Trading 6. Song For My Friend Burton 7. Desert Suite A-Desert Wanderers B- Eitan)

Personnel: Reunion: Burton Greene (piano) and Laurence Cook (drums)

Track Listing: Flower: 1. Rising Intensity (for Alan Silva) 2. Angels on the Roof 3. On the Edge 4. Greene Hands 5. Ancient Shit

Personnel: Flower: João Camões (viola, mey and percussion); Burton Greene (piano, prepared piano and percussion); Marcelo dos Reis (nylon-string guitar, prepared guitar and voice) and José Miguel Pereira (bass)