Jason Stein

A Calculus of Loss
Clean Feed CF 104 CD

Evan Parker-Mark Wastell-Graham Halliwell-Max Eastley

A Life Saved By a Spider and Two Doves

Another Timbre at06

Kidd Jordan/Kali Z. Fasteau

LIVE at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland

Flying Note FNCD 9012

Scott Fields

Bitter Love Songs

Clean Feed CF 102 CD

Open Loose

Strange Unison

Radio Legs RL 013

By Ken Waxman

Arguments exist as to the commercial benefits of free trade agreements. But musicians wish similar treaties existed for their trade. In the period since NFTA, for instance, the ability of performers to travel across borders has become worse. That’s what makes festival season important. Foreign performers ranging from respected veterans to savvy tyros get Canadian exposure. Recent CDs here capture older jazzers’ alchemy and suggest newer players to watch.

Someone who has been on the cutting edge since the 1960s, British saxophonist Evan Parker brings his questing spirit to the emblematically titled A Life Saved By a Spider and Two Doves, Another Timbre at06 Parker’s soprano saxophone is framed by shimmering, pulsating and whirling percussion and electronics. The other musicians – all British – are Mark Wastell playing tam-tam, metal percussion and harmonium, Graham Halliwell using computer and electronics; and Max Eastley on arc, an electro-acoustic monochord.

The unyielding drones from arc and harmonium create the sonic bed on which these improvisations rest. Additional electronic prestidigitation from Halliwell means that Parker’s carefully measured vibrations are seconded by lyrical trills reconstituted from his own output.

Although the saxophonist’s unhurried modulations announce their distinctive presence as they peep from among the seeping tones, all the players reach resolution on “The Chessboard Cherry Tree”. Here turbidity is shattered by ear-wrenching percussion abrasions and crackling electronic wave forms. Most distinctively, Parker’s aviary slurs coagulate and multiply with circular breathing. Utilizing ghost notes and flutter tonguing, his phrases color and connect the proceedings. Eventually the others’ blurred harmonies bond with understated reed trills for a satisfying climax.

If Parker finesses his polyphonic tones than New Orleans-based tenor-saxophonist Kidd Jordan burns through his with molten energy. Unlike Parker, Jordan performs infrequently in Canada. You can hear why this is a loss on LIVE at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland Flying Note FNCD 9012, where his unbridled improvising is showcased. Associates of the septuagenarian saxophonist are percussionist Newman Taylor Barker and Kali Z. Fasteau, who expresses herself on mizmar, piano, flute, cello, synthesizer, violin, drums and soprano saxophone.

Announcing themselves on “Trance Dance”, Baker rumbles, pops and rebounds, as Fasteau scrapes, stops and strums the piano’s strings before turning to modal chording. For his part, Jordan divides his sheets of sound between screeching that abuts dog-whistle territory, and slurred, subterranean growls.

Additional mass is added elsewhere when Fasteau packs performances with thick synthesizer reverberations, screechy cello lines or, drumming, joins Baker in producing press rolls. Meanwhile Jordan ratchets from his horn’s top to tip in a nanosecond, utilizing vibrated split tones, double-tongued flattement and side-slipping. With Jordan expelling staccato, free-form patterns and Fasteau utilizing her soprano saxophone’s pinched, ney-like tone, “Sound Science” is another effective track; timbres brush up against one another as identical notes appear in different pitches.

Another improviser who tours as frequently as Parker is guitarist Scott Fields. Chicago-born, Fields moved to Köln, Germany a few years back. On the witty Bitter Love Songs Clean Feed CF 102 CD, he leads a trio completed by a Portuguese rhythm section: bassist Sebastian Gramss and drummer João Lobo. Fields’ compositions, which match liquid guitar runs, slinky bass lines and on-the-beat drumming, are still at variance with their sardonic titles.

For instance “My Love is Love, Your Love is Hate” features a spinning staccato theme from Fields that is stretched with slurred fingering until it seems that it will rupture, but doesn’t. Working in double counterpoint, the massed strings join to produce a barrage of notes, with Fields sounding as if he’s playing microtonally and Gramss slapping a backbeat. Meanwhile Lobo’s flams precede an intermezzo for ringing guitar licks. Note clusters are lobbed between the players on “You Used to Say I Love You but So What Now”. But the strategy is different. Fields’ contrapuntal chording skirts C&W picking, while Gramss resonates handfuls of low-pitched timbres. Eventually as the bassist settles on legato pacing, Fields wraps up with echoing, blues-based licks.

Gramss’ bass work owes its suppleness to sonic extensions from older bass specialists such as New York’s Mark Helias, who has recorded in Toronto. His Open Loose band includes drummer Tom Rainey and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby.

On Strange Unison, Radio Legs RL 013, while the three interlock instrumentally, Helias’ bass nevertheless set the pace, with resonations ranging from traditional slap bass to staccatissimo runs. Master of understatement, Rainey blunts the backbeat, relying on cymbal cracks and cross-pulsating drags. Skirting atonality with flutter tonguing and pressurized overblowing, Malaby digs into each composition. “Silent Stutter”, for example, finds him masticating hard and heavy slurs into clusters which are subsequently expelled as foghorn blats. In contrast, “Blue Light Down the Line” is taken mid-tempo. As the bassist’s walking is succeeded by mercurial stopping, Malaby builds concentrated phrases. Soon physicality is replaced by moderato coloration as timbres puffed by the saxophone are doubled with arco swipes.

Another vibrant improvised music scene is Chicago’s, spearheaded by reedist Ken Vandermark, a frequent Canadian visitor. Like other established players, Vandermark mentors younger players, one of whom is bass clarinetist Jason Stein. A Calculus of Loss Clean Feed CF 104 CD demonstrates what Stein can do on his own, backed by Kevin Davis’s cello and Mike Pride’s percussion.

As cohesive as the other groups here, one of the trio’s advantages is that Davis takes either the front-line guitar or rhythm-section bass role. The other is that Pride’s percussion includes resonating vibraphone tinctures, cantilevered cymbal patterns plus standard drum beats.

Compositions such as “Caroline and Sam” and “That’s Not a Closet” confirm the three are as comfortable with New music as new Swing. Balanced on vibes reverberations and scratched cello strings, the former connects a near-madrigal melody with extended techniques as Stein sounds an intractable phrase in his body tube ignoring key movement. Based on mood, rather than rhythm, the result is contemplative without sinking to lugubriousness. On the other hand, “That’s Not…” is sprightly enough to suggest mainstream swing, although Stein’s roistering coloratura lines alternating with jagged runs aren’t a standard scenario. Melodious, variations moderate the pace so Davis’ plinks and Pride’s cymbal pops are audible in its resolution.

Some of these players may be on stage this month; others may take a while to visit the area. All are worth hearing.

— For Whole Note Vol. 13 #9