Olie Brice Trio/Octet

November 1, 2022

Fire Hills
West Hill Records WHR 003

Equally proficient as double bassist and composer, Olie Brice’s Fire Hills two-CD set dedicates one CD each to these dual accomplishments with different-sized ensembles. Known for his work with the like of Paul Dunmall and others his ideas are expressed on disc 1 by a trio with tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Will Glaser, while disc 2 has the bassist with a completely different octet consisting of drummer Johnny Hunter, trumpeters Alex Bonney and Kim Macari and saxophonists Jason Yarde, George Crowley, Rachel Musson and Cath Roberts.

Only the title tune appears on both discs, which except for its unified excellence, is interpretated in diverse fashions. Initially shaped around the bassist’s levelling stentorian pumps, drum pitter-patter and inconsistent smears, buzzes and tongue stops from the saxophonist, the trio “Fire Hills” develops into a Sonny Rollins-reminiscent FreeBop showpiece with vibrating shakes and slaps from Brice, thickening rumbles from Glaser and strident but shaded multiphonics from Challenger. Reaching a climax in the final sequence, arco string sweeps and swallowed reed slurs deconstruct variations back to the theme kernel. At full octet strength, the exposition of “Fire Hills” is more layered and horizontal, with concentrated saxophone riffs moving from single to multiphonic as contrapuntal slide advance in clarion mode. Continued harmonies from arco bass lines and unison reeds give way to brassy linear trumpet shakes, soon contrasted with gutty baritone saxophone honks. Reaching a crescendo of reed tones that undulate between Blues and Caribbean overtones, the jagged horn timbres remain even as the theme undulates to reflect the restrained introduction.

Tripartite intensity characterizes the other trio tracks. A kaleidoscope of shifting snare pops, cymbal shakes, pizzicato string reverb plus altissimo scream at the top of the tenor saxophone’s range, cerebral evolution and neural sound extensions evolve in tandem. In fact “Extended Breath (for Eric Dolphy)” manages to balance the bassist’s authoritative walking with framed power strokes to counter the saxophonist’s doit and vibrated variations to the theme. “Blues for Johnny Dyani” is more than that since South African Kwela rhythms intersect with Challenger’s bluesy reed slurs, with the continuum buoyed by Brice’s reflected strokes.

Brice’s hard blues-like string slaps similarly advance the octet numbers. But with more players the narratives include grace notes and short triplet blasts from the trumpets, harmonized and contrapuntal reed expressions and plus an essay on cymbalism and bass drum  connections from Hunter. The drummer also takes a well-modulated solo on extended “Rotating Mirrors (for Julius Hemphill)”, although emphasis throughout is on melody variations which balance melancholic smoothness with technical prowess, including sections which resemble traffic jam clashes at rush hour. Among the harmonic converge which characterizes the piece, one trumpeter advances portamento shakes while the other concentrates on half-valve effects. There’s split tone affirmation from one tenor saxophonist, a continuous baritone saxophone ostinato and a frenetic alto sax solo. More reminiscent of Charles Mingus mid-sized group writing than Hemphill’s, stop-time inferences mixed with heavily rhythmic echoes tell the story while balancing scoops, split tone and swing.

If Fire Hills has a drawback it’s that the soloist aren’t identified during the octet tracks. Other than that there’s much evidence to suggest Brice is reaching towards, and has mostly attained, the multiple skills he admires in earlier musical figures.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Fire Hills 2. Looking for the Possible Dance 3. Something Seen (for Andrew Hill) 4. Extended Breath (for Eric Dolphy) 5. Blues for Johnny Dyani CD2: 6. Rotating Mirrors (for Julius Hemphill) 7. Tidal License 8. Fire Hills

Personnel: CD1: Tom Challenger (tenor saxophone); Olie Brice (bass); Will Glaser (drums) CD2: Octet: Alex Bonney, Kim Macari (trumpets); Jason Yarde (alto saxophone); George Crowley,  Rachel Musson (tenor saxophones); Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone); Brice (bass); Johnny Hunter (drums)