November 1, 2008
John Heward-Joe McPhee
Voices: 10 Improvisations
Mode Avant 05
Jeb Bishop/Harris Eisenstadt/Jason Roebke
Not Two MW 789-2
Michael Bates’ Outside Sources
Greenleaf Music 09
Francois Carrier/Michel Lambert/ Jean-Jacques Avenel
Leo CD LR 512
Expatriates or homebodies, Canadian improvisers interact with many first-class players from and in any country. The results can be imposing, even if there’s nothing intrinsically Canuck about the music.
Take the Jeb Bishop/Harris Eisenstadt/Jason Roebke CD, Tiebreaker, Not Two MW 789-2. The crowd at this Krakow, Poland date probably thought they were applauding three Americans. Yet while astute trombonist Bishop and solid bassist Roebke are both Chicago-based, versatile drummer Eisenstadt is a Toronto native now in New York.
Bishop’s gutsy slurs and growls lock in place so completely with Roebke’s steady walking and Eisenstadt’s rumbling, funky beats that other instruments aren’t missed. While some tracks may be snappier, the key performance is the almost-39-minute medley that seamlessly links two of the trombonist’s compositions, one by the drummer and another by the bassist.
As the tunes flow into one another, Bishop’s buzzing grace notes elongate into brays, strengthened by Eisenstadt’s drags and rim shots. Moving to “Double Dog”, the second tune, brass chromaticism turns to horn whistles and squeaks, until the drummer’s cymbal embellishments signal the shift into his own “How Are You Dear”. Bishop’s lip burbles personalize the tender line, while adding vocalized tessitura. The bassist’s “Northstar” brings out trombone snorts and tongue gymnastics, answered with fidgety arco sweeps and timed drum strokes. The four compositions fit together as effectively as the players improvise together.
Another essay in co-operation is Clockwise Greenleaf Music 09 by Michael Bates’ Outside Sources, a long-standing quartet. Like Eisenstadt, bassist Bates and tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Quinsin Nachoff are ex-Torontonians now Brooklynites. Americans, trumpeter Russ Johnson and drummer Jeff Davis, join them to create notable sounds.
Steadfastly tonal, the bassist’s nine compositions flit among polyrhythms, waltz time, odd bar lengths and multi-part counterpoint to tell stories ranging from emotional balladry to rhythm dissertations. Bates’ admiration for composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich is expressed most profoundly on “The Russian School”, a nocturne with its drama and passion channeled through Nachoff’s saxophone. As the saxophonist’s guttural lines augment in pitch and strength, they transform into coarse, excited cries, as trumpeter Johnson’s muted harmonies add placid coloration. Balanced on top of the bassist’s fierce string-thumping, the tune darken, deepen and is resolved with a steadying confluence of measured sul tasto sweeps from Bates and flutter tonguing from Nachoff.
Nachoff confirms his clarinet credentials on “Fellini” and “Lighthouskeeping”. Stop-time, the later tune allows him to vibrate the pitch-sliding theme contrasted with parallel staccato trumpet, bass and drum intonation. Before the piece concludes diminuendo, both horns interlace with flowing flutter-tonguing. Like its namesake’s films, “Fellini” is buffo and sensuous, as waltz time advances slinky reed motions, ruffs and bounces from Davis and the trumpeter’s half-valve ornamentation. Eventually back-and-forth theme splintering resolves the tonal divide.
Featuring a similarly other-directed saxophonist and a solid bassist, but in trio form, Within Leo CD LR 512 provides a variation on this theme. Alto saxophonist Francois Carrier and his long-time associate, drummer Michel Lambert, are Montréalais, but bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel is French.
Like Tiebreaker, Within captures a first-time alliance that sounds as if the players have worked together for years. The three parts of the 60-minute improvisation, recorded at the Calgary Jazz Festival, depend on mind-melding between the guest and the long-time duo. Avenel’s spiccato thumps help stretch the thematic line to its furthest without shattering, whenever Carrier’s spetrofluctuation and reed-biting threaten to do so. In the tune’s mid-section however, the saxophonist’s slithery, human-sounding cries make common cause with each musician in turn. His contrapuntal interlude with Avenel features ground bass sweeps and col legno sawing used as connective tissue to bond with Carrier’s curt squeaks and flutter tonguing. A similar strategy is apparent on the Lambert-Carrier duets. The drummer’s opposite sticking and ratamacues subtly counter Carrier’s blustering pressure that metaphorically follows every note with an exclamation point. Expanding the time frame the drummer creates kalimba-like plinks and tam-tam resonations. His Asiatic echoes moderate Carrier’s strained Arabic textures so that the resulting timbres simultaneously resemble a gagku orchestra concertizing and Bird and Bags in a bop improvisation. In his duets with Carrier, Avenel’s tremolo plucking allows the saxophonist’s tensile reed-biting to downshift, creating a climatic section that is stately, harmonic and discreet.
Montreal-based visual artist John Heward organized a similar meeting with Poughkeepsie N.Y. multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. Matching Heward’s drums and kalimba with McPhee’s pocket trumpet and soprano saxophone Voices: 10 Improvisations Mode Avant 05, aurally illuminates Heward’s skills and the extent of McPhee’s instrumental virtuosity. As comfortable in microtonal New music situations as screaming Free Jazz blowouts, except for some watery bluster from McPhee’s saxophone, Voices’ powerful improvisations angle more towards the later than the former.
McPhee’s tenor talents allow him to glide from harsh hocketing to portamento slurs in nanoseconds during “Improvisation 9”. When he reorients the line by blowing colored air through the instrument’s body tube, Heward’s response encompasses frame drum-like resonation and individualized strokes. Beginning the track with bugle-like emphasis in double counterpoint with Heward’s press rolls, the saxophonist’s glottal punctuation ceases by the climax. Completing the “Reveille” inference at the top, his final notes suggest “Taps”, with the drummer’s strokes appropriately martial.
Equally impressive on the trumpet, McPhee chromatically emphasizes various textures where appropriate. He brings an understated 1950s-Miles-vibe to “Improvisation 2” as his muted grace notes, coupled with Heward’s kalimba plucks, conjure up an African savannah as much as an American night club. Matched in broken-octave story-telling, Heward’s drum tops bangs and cymbal smacks complement McPhee near-static internal horn breaths and plunger squeaks.
These CDs don’t make the self-defeating case that Canadian improvisers are good enough to play with outsiders. Instead they confirm that this mixture of locals and others creates a common musical ground notable by any criteria.
— Ken Waxman
— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #3