Andrew Lamb Trio

New Orleans Suite
Engine Studios e019

That from tragedy comes great art is a hoary cliché which if true means that the flooding of New Orleans engendered by Hurricane Katrina will provide material for concerned artists for years to come. One of the first responses – recorded three weeks after the natural disaster – is this CD featuring saxophonist Andrew Lamb, bassist Tom Abbs and percussionist Warren. A mixture of aggressive soloing and agitprop, it sets a high standard to which others can aspire.

Among the most arresting features of the date is “Dyes and Lyes”, a sardonic blues rap Smith wrote and recites. Although the drummer’s condemnation of the American government’s inaction and disinterest in the impoverished as well as about the birthplace of 20th century improvised music gives the funky rap extra bite and resonance, the powerful musicianship of all three players is as noticeable here as on the fully instrumental tracks.

Throughout, Abbs, who often pilots other bands like Triptych Myth with pianist Cooper More and drummer Chad Taylor, slaps muscular bass figures to direct the others. Elsewhere in the music he makes a place for curvaceous arco solos on bass and cello, and from time to time sounds vibrating blasts from his didjeridoo.

Smith, whose experience ranges from Motown Records studio work and university teaching to playing with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and saxophonist Sam Rivers, introduces a panoply of percussion add-ons to uniquely color the CD’s six selections. Meantime, Clinton, N. C.-born Lamb, who came to musical maturity during New York’s Loft Era, appends the sometimes unexpected tinctures of flute, clarinet and harmonica to the compositions. Not surprisingly, these tones are mere interludes among the timbres surging and gushing from his full-bore tenor saxophone work.

“Song of the Miracle Lives” is a particularly egregious example of his art as spacious Coltranesque tenor tones quickly take on to-the-colors-like gravitas. Before concluding with a flourish that could be “Taps”, the saxophonist squeaks elongated cadences and scathing, diffuse rhythmic timbres. Simultaneously Smith modifies the background with dancing clip-clops on wooden temple bells, shimmering cymbal echoes and blunt smacks on un-lathed cymbals.

Similarly, “Back Water” moves along with bell tree, tubular bell and tam tam reverberation plus wood block pitter pattering and chiming pitches from vibrated thunder sheets. Additionally, while Smith ruffs and bounces, Abbs migrates north on his bass strings with an undercurrent of constant guiro-like scratches before thwacking spiccato notes. As for the saxman, he positions himself in the altissimo register with staccato contrapuntal lines that develop into triple tonguing.

In other spots Lamb showcases shill policeman whistles and lip intensity vibrato from his saxophone, chalumeau range clarinet modes and simple in-and-out harmonica breaths. Smith moves among bass drum bomb dropping, chortling choke cymbals and scene-setting rim shots with the same finesse.

Unlike FEMA and the Bush government, Lamb and company appear to have salvaged something positive from the Katrina experience. Too bad so many people had to suffer before this art was made.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Dyes and Lyes 3. Katrina’s Path 3. Rescue Me 4. Back Water 5. Song of the Miracle Lives 6. Aftermath Healing

Personnel: Andrew Lamb (tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet and harmonica); Tom Abbs (bass, cello and didjeridoo); Warren Smith (drums and percussion)