June 23, 2009
Jeff Albert Quartet
Similar in the Opposite Way
Fora Sound FORA 08-01
This is R*Time
Ropeadope No #
Peace Time Records PTR 1003
Brassy, sassy and worth heralding, these CDs feature three trombonists celebrating their bona fides while working out individual paths for themselves. Interesting, all three are somewhat beholden to the super-speedy rhythmic crunches that contemporary players have internalized from rock music.
As a point of demarcation however, with their instrumentation of trombone, saxophone, bass and drums, both the New Orleans combo of Jeff Albert, and the Boston-based Gypsy Schaeffer quartet, which prominently features slide-specialist Joel Yennior, extend the FreeBop focus pioneered by the New York Art Quartet (NYAQ) in the 1960s. Israeli-born, but a New York resident, trombone and flugabone player Reut Regev alters the arrangement by cleaving closer to Latin beats, On This is R*Time she substitutes David Phelps’ flanged and distorted guitar styling for the saxes present on the other CDs and adds conga and bongo frailer Eddie Bobé to two tracks.
Regev, whose experience encompasses Latin band work as well as membership in Anthony Braxton’s 12+1tet, composed the majority of the tunes here as well as collaborating on a couple with percussionist Igal Foni. Distinguishing strategy throughout is the contrast of her super-clean articulation with Phelps’ echoing fuzz-tone lines and vamps – while Foni concentrates on the backbeat.
On a tune like “Some of the Best Fish Are Alive”, where Regev also plays congas, she extends the Latin-rock groove with trombone triple tonguing and a series of plump, chromatic whole notes. Loosening his distant string-flailing, the guitarist aims for synthesized wiggles and Space Rock homage, as bassist Brad Jones holds down the middle. Climax is reached by intertwining Regev’s mid-range tremolo plus clanking and clipped rhythm patterns.
“Balibalaila” is more diffuse. Sitar-like shimmers from Phelps and walking bass strokes give way to the trombonist alternately pumping lyrical or linear tones on top of a massed percussion attack – including Bobé’s congas. As her horn’s timbres fades into echoing growls, it appears as if Regev is abutting bossa nova lines while the others stick to Latin-Rock.
“Nutcase Scenario”, written by Foni, is the most complete essay in trombone and guitar interaction – although this time it evolves over repeated twangs from Jones’ electric bass. The slashing staccato guitar vamps come up against chugging grace note extensions and subtle growling from Regev. Opened up for a drum solo enlivened by cross sticking and nerve beats, the stop-and-go composition marches to the finish line with brass plunger textures and sliced off guitar chords.
Moving down south from Ninth Avenue to the Ninth Ward, Jeff Albert’s trick bag opens up wide enough to expose a series of the trombonist’s quirkily titled compositions. Most are performed with a sort of jerky and jokey unison between Albert’s trombone double-tonguing and slurs and Ray Moore’s slithery and slippery alto saxophone timbres. Albert’s low blats usually limn the melody while Moore’s sharp trills decorate them – or the process is reversed. Bassist Tommy Sciple walks convincingly, while drummer Dave Cappello’s breaks sometime function as a third lead voice.
Albert, who has backed Crescent City R&B journeymen such as George Porter and Deacon John, is also linked to the newest generation of Windy City improvisers, with his post-Hurricane Katrina-organized Lucky7s band, co-lead by fellow vale-pumper Jeb Bishop and otherwise staffed by Chicagoans.
Here, a piece like “Bag Full of Poboys” is the most New Orleans-like in its grooves, with an in-the-pocket beat and the trombonist and altoist involved in searing double counterpoint. Staying down-and-dirty at the same time as it progresses, the piece allows Albert to let loose with brays, slurs and purrs, while just before Moore fractures the theme with altissimo runs, Cappello’s cymbal action and drags confirm the rhythm.
Not every tune is andante and staccato, however. “Subtle Flower”, for instance, is an intricate ballad. Slowly fertilizing the bloom, the two horn men’s timbres often intertwine, although each is playing a different melody. Moore moves from mid-range to whistling chirps that ascend to higher pitches, while Albert blows blurry, buzzy modulations.
Sometimes the piece takes on a vaguely oriental feel as with “Rookie Cyclist”. Steadily pumped and goosed by Cappello’s ruffs and bumps, the theme gives Albert a chance to showcase a wide-ranging collection of grace notes à la Roswell Rudd, and reed-biting Moore the place to assay rough Archie Shepp-like runs.
Referencing the piano-less NYAQ, as well as similarly constituted earlier quartets such as Ornette Coleman’s in the late 1950s and Gerry Mulligan’s earlier in that decade; Gypsy Schaeffer’s game plan is tight and swinging. That’s not surprising since the group, which has been a working unit since 2003, is made up of Beantown regulars who played together in various combinations over the years. Trombonist Yennior is also a member of the mercurial Either/Orchestra, but roles are shared cooperatively. As is the writing: three of the 13 tunes are by saxophonist Andy Voelker, two by bassist Jeff Charland, and the rest group composition/improvisations.
The majority of the compositions have a definite traditional structure. Voelker’s “New Egypt”, for instance, features his Marion Brown-like alto sax line stating the head on top of Charland’s waking bass line, and then Voelker’s variations are seconded by rumbles from drummer Chris Punis. Yennior’s downward slurs recap the head, which appears a third time as an extro, taken one-third more leisurely than it was at the top. Throughout the disc, the four also confirm that, like the Count Basie band, they can maintain a swinging pace even at slow tempos.
Yennior’s pitch vocalization is featured on “Identity Crisis”, with simian sounds prominent as well. Final variations mate ratamacues and rim shots from Punis, rubato slurs from the trombonist and flutter-tongued alto trills. “Exuberant Irrationalism” on the other hand is pulled along on cymbal chings and a walking bass line, while the horns’ scalar runs expand into jumps and pumps.
Charland’s unvarying bass stops also formalize the connections between the Coleman and Mulligan quartet approaches on Voelker’s “Shark Tank”. After strident unison reed-and-brass sequences give way to a drum solo, the subsequent trading of fours makes the group sound much larger. Utilizing stop-time, the finale is simultaneously fanciful and harmonized.
In truth, none of the trombonists have redefines improvised the music in any way. But all have created pleasurable sessions which expand the definition of mainstream. Each CD suggests further impressive surprises can be expected from all the bands.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Time 1. Swill^ 2. Hula Hula* 3. Nutcase Scenario&^ 4. Bailbaila*+ 5. Some of the Best Fish Are Alive%* 6. Paradise%*# 7. Elephant Steps&^ 8. Clean Dirt* 9. True Story^
Personnel: Time: Reut Regev (trombone, flugabone& and congas%); David Phelps (guitars); Brad Jones (bass* and electric bass^); Igal Foni (drums and percussion) and Eddie Bobé (congas+ and bongos#)
Track Listing: Similar: 1. Similar in the Opposite Way 2. I Was Just Looking For My Pants 3. 9th Ward Trotsky 4. Subtle Flower 5. Chalk & Chocolate 6. Bag Full of Poboys 7. (Could Have Been a) Napkin 8. Folk Song 9. Morph My Cheese 10. Rookie Cyclist
Personnel: Similar: Jeff Albert (trombone); Ray Moore (alto saxophone); Tommy Sciple (bass) and Dave Cappello (drums)
Track Listing: Album: 1. New Egypt 2. Live a Little 3. Black Friday 4. Standard Candles 5. Grape Soda and Pretzels 6. The Greater Good 7. Welcome Edison 8. Double Quartet 9. Shark Tank 10. Exuberant Irrationalism 11. Ground Swell 12. Call to Arms 13. Identity Crisis
Personnel: Album: Joel Yennior (trombone); Andy Voelker (alto, tenor and soprano saxophones); Jeff Charland (bass) and Chris Punis (drums)