December 17, 2009
Tom Abbs & Frequency Response
Lost & Found
Multi-instrumentalist Tom Abbs is likewise multi-talented, as he demonstrates on the 18 structured improvisations on this CD. But of course, Seattle-born, Brooklyn-based Abbs – who plays bass, cello and tuba – couldn’t go it alone.
Frequency Response is a well-balanced ensemble, which is able to express Abbs’ and others’ ideas through the skills of saxophonist/flautist Brian Settles, who also works with drummer Tomas Fujiwara; violinist Jean Cook, part of the Gena Rowlands band; and especially drummer Chad Taylor. Not only is Taylor, one-third of Triptych Myth with Abbs and pianist Cooper-Moore, but he has also worked with musicians as different as veteran Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ saxophonist Fred Anderson and experimental cornetist Rob Mazurek. With Settles mostly sticking to tenor saxophone, plus Cook’s fiddle fillips, the quartet is still able to express itself in a variety of forms.
“Consolation” for example, backs legato string pulsations with Abbs’ thumping bass lines and rims shots from Taylor. As the strings dialogue in double-counterpoint tremolo, Settles expands his tone with unexpected wiggling timbres. “Cross” on the other hand, chugs along with a balanced, yet off-kilter marching band pulse. Along the way, lowing peal point from Abbs’ tuba harmonizes with the saxman’s mid-range flutters and trills. The finale is a Taylor solo encompassing cross sticking, opposite sticking and rim shots.
Meanwhile “Parse”, with Abbs on cello, is reminiscent of the string-centred dates tenor man Rev. Frank Wright made for ESP-Disk in the 1960s. Abrasive, coloration depends on the pointillism of sul ponticello string dabs ranging across the sound field to hook up with Settles’ intermittent reed honks. Then there’s “Pedestrian”, which is anything but. Instead it’s an allegro showpiece designed to inflate the tonal colors with slinky, effortless reed obbligatos from Settles, arpeggio-rich, guitar-like strumming from Abbs and stop-time percussion from Taylor’s toms, cymbals and whacked wood blocks.
“Tightrope” is a showcase foe the saxophonist. Here subterranean vibrations and flutter-tongued reflux lead to a basso elaboration of the swinging theme. As Taylor strokes and sounds press rolls and Abbs walking bass provide the backing, Settles deconstructs his part down to miniscule air puffs.
If there is criticism that can be directed towards Abbs and Frequency Response, it’s the sheer number of tracks on this CD. Now that band members have confirmed their versatility and responsiveness on this session – their third – it would appear to be time to attempt something lengthier. As good as this CD is, let’s see how the four interact during a composition of 20 minutes or longer.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Lost 2. Static 3. Torn 4. Suspect 5. Lock 6. Tidal 7. Parse 8. Consolation 9. Bars 10. Box 11. Cross 12. Pin Top 13. Pedestrian 14. Strung 15. Tightrope 16. Missing 17. Found 18. Reflection.
Personnel: Brian Settles (tenor and soprano saxophones and flute); Jean Cook (violin [except 2, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15]); Tom Abbs (bass, cello and tuba) and Chad Taylor (drums)