November 29, 2022

Six-ish Plateaus
Elastic Recordings ER 004

By Ken Waxman

Committed to expanding sound boundaries, but only as far as they avoid atonality, Toronto bassist Alex Fournier expands his Triio to six to interpret his compositions. He ensures that individual’s improvisations fit his strategy, but without curtailing creative improvisation.

Besides his fluid pulse, tunes are anchored by drummer Stefan Hegerat’s careful crunches; guitarist Tom Fleming’s strokes ranging from finger-style echoes to percussive hammering, while vibraphonist Michael Davidson sprinkles lyrical color around the themes. Saxophonist Bea Labikova and clarinetist Naomi McCarroll Butler frequently harmonize, but also contribute overblowing honks, shrill scream and intense split tones.

Balance is key. So if Fleming’s string shakes introduce unneeded harsh speediness, lyrical vibraphone shading swiftly moves the exposition back on track. Similarly a cornucopia of altissimo cries and airy multiphonics from the reeds are sometimes meshed with distinct bass thumps. At the top of “Tragic Leisure”, for example, wistful woodwind harmonies are intensified with melodic string glissandi. As tough bass strokes quicken the pace, percussion smacks and guitar reverb quickly join in, only to have buoyant clarinet trills float the narrative back to reflect its Arcadian introduction.

Fournier’s concluding “Saltlick City” expresses its astringency with raspy saxophone bites and jagged arco swipes. But the contrapuntal buzzing timbres are combined with warm clarinet expressions that precede a crescendo of group vibrations that confirm the equitable direction of the piece and of the album itself.

In his10th year as bandleader Fournier has undoubtedly attained a desired plateau.

–for The Whole Note November-December 2022