Tim Berne / Chris Speed / Reid Anderson / David King

August 23, 2021

Broken Shadows

Intakt 362

The Workers


Wide Ear WER 049

These two reeds-two rhythm sessions succinctly point out how improvised music is constantly evolving. Altbüron by four Swiss-based players’ one track is so immersed in uncompromising 21st Century Free Music that its reference points are almost exclusively within that genre. In the same way the American Broken Shadows quartet’s interpretations of 12 compositions by Ornette Coleman and his associates become traditional Jazz with its vocabulary informed by Blues, rhythm and organized melodies. In comparison it shows how Coleman’s seemingly incoherent experimentation of the early 1960s have now become mainstream.

To be honest the two most affecting Broken Shadows tunes were composed by Julius Hemphill, like Coleman, a Fort Worth native, best-known for his work with the World Saxophone Quartet. Taking full advantage of the Texas lope on “Body”, bassist Reid Anderson energetically pulses while drummer Dave King splashes drum cracks. Joining those members of The Bad Plus, alto saxophonist Tim Berne and tenor saxophone); Chris Speed, who have played together for almost 30 years, interpolates textures by harmonizing soul and split tones. The R&B-like riffs are more obviously intense on “Dogon A.D.” The saxophonists energetically squeeze emotion out of every vamp, exchanging tones like a country Blues duo while bass string extruding and bass drum ruffs vibrate beneath them. Breaking apart the time the head is repeated several times.

That structure is obvious too on the eight Coleman compositions that take up most of the disc. Upsettingly revolutionary they appeared when played either by the first quartet or later electric band, in retrospect, their relationship to tradition is obvious. There are touch of Latin on “Una Muy Bonita”, emphasized by Speed’s snarling variations and a yearning melancholy on the title track, but overall the music is as bouncy and bright as that produced by a marching band. Intersecting reed cries on “Broken Shadows” confirm the undertone of sadness, but adagio bass pumps keeps the performance flowing forward. Other than that sunniness is expressed on nearly every one to a greater or lesser degree. Tunes such as “Street Woman” or “Toy Dance” for instance steadily roll horizontally as they judder up and down, propelled by tolling drum strokes and reed split tones piled on top of one another. A walking bass line is usually emphasized, as is connective Blues-like phraseology. Phrasing in introductions frequently reappears as saxophone slurs and stutters end with a responsive connection.

Any nods to conventionality on Altbüron occur when Israeli-born alto saxophonist and flutist Omri Ziegele interrupts the group tone exploration to intone in English some pseudo-Beat phraseology. Other than that he spends his time creating emphasized squawks, squeals and peeps that epitomize Energy Music. Logical on their own when he engages in broken octave unison challenges with soprano saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, his sound japes confirms the other’s versatility. The slightly older Leimgruber, who here pushes out sprawling multiphonics and energetically repeated slides and screeches usually plays in more refined circumstances in a trio with Barre Phillips and Jacques Demierre. Younger, drummer Alex Huber and bassist Christian Weber have worked with multiple European improvisers.

Beginning with thin echoing reed puffs and squalls balancing on swift slides down the bass line by Weber, the winnowing peeps are soon inflated with broken octave shrills as Ziegele begins his Alan Ginsberg-meets-Flower-Power recitations. As the intense reed tonguing climb upwards to flutters and shrills, freedom is confirmed by Huber’s hard smacks and rolls and bass-string stropping. Continuing to contrast cavernous blowing from the alto saxophone with high peeps from the soprano, unaccompanied solo sequences from all four are heard. Never overdone, with even the drummer confining himself to cymbal brushing and drum rumbles and the bassist pointillist-like ratcheting, the penultimate sequence slides down to adagio as the reeds showcase duck calls and time-signal-like beeps. Following an unexpected explosion of nasal reed multiphonics, reed sucking and intermittent cymbal slaps the narrative gradually fades.

While the chief point of congruence between The Workers and Broken Shadows is instrumentation, both have created equally valid approaches to playing evolved music. Ironically comparing the two one set seems more traditional than the other. This confirms the irony that yesterday’s shocking revolution soon becomes today’s expected evolution.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Broken: 1. Street Woman 2. Body 3. Toy Dance 4. Ecars 5. Civilization Day 6. Comme il Faut 7. Dogon A.D. 8. C.O.D. 9. Una Muy Bonita 10. Song For Che 11. Walls-Bridges 12. Broken Shadows

Personnel: Broken: Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Chris Speed (tenor saxophone); Reid Anderson (bass) and Dave King (drums)

Track Listing: Altbüron 1. Altbüron

Personnel: Altbüron: Urs Leimgruber (soprano saxophone); Omri Ziegele (alto saxophone, voice and flute); Christian Weber (bass) and Alex Huber (drums)