Michaël Attias

Renku in Coimbra
Clean Feed CF 162 CD

Oleś Brothers with Rob Brown

Live at SJC

Fenommedia Live Series FM 09-008

Double bass and drums power and patterns are the reason for the success of both these trio CDs which also feature – and in one case is lead by – an alto saxophonist. Nonetheless, these cohesive qualities would likely be present no matter who was the third partner.

Poland’s most notable rhythm section, twin brothers, bassist Marcin Oleś and drummer Bartłomiej “Brat” Oleś are a lot more than the Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb of Eastern Europe. Although their skills as close-knit accompanists have benefited musicians ranging from German woodwind player Theo Jörgensmann to American cellist Erik Friedlander, they also produce sessions and – as in this case – compose the music. Not only has Brat Oleś in particular supplied memorable tunes for this CD, but the two spur New York saxophonist Rob Brown to his most impressive soloing on record. Considering Brown travels in the company of players such as bassist William Parker and pianist Mathew Ship that’s high praise.

Although bassist John Hébert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi together have been Israeli-American saxophonist Michaël Attias’ rhythm section since 2003, they’re also busy with a variety of other projects. Takeishi has also worked with Anthony Braxton as well as Brown and Friedlander, while Hébert plays with trombonist Joe Fielder and pianist Benoît Delbecq. More tellingly, the bassist contributed four of the eight tunes on this session and his thick thumps and walking keeps everything balanced. Meantime Takeishi uses a variety of percussion implements to add novel coloration and shore up Attias understated style. The Haifa-born saxophonist, who was raised in Paris and Minneapolis was also mentored by Braxton and has paid sideman dues with drummer Paul Motian and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum.

Recorded in a Gliwice jazz club in 2008, Live at SJC could be the 21st Century equivalent of Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section from 1957. Although Brown’s sharp and piercing tone is closer to Jackie McLean’s, “Brat” Oleś constant clatter, rumbles and rolls plus cymbal sizzles as well as his brother’s slippery plucks, strums and reverberations provide the necessary impetus for the saxophonist as Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones did for the saxophonist on the Pepper LP.

Not that Brown needs much prodding during the CD’s more than 75½ minutes. Gritty runs flutter tonguing and glissandi extensions are just a few of the ways he exposes every note pattern nuance to the audience. During the three-part “Here & Now Suite” for instance, his wet trilling, high-pitched split tones and node extensions are prominent during nearly every solo. The Oleś’ responses to his nearly ceaseless mutiphonic playing are circular cross pulsing from the drummer and curvaceous string pumping from the bassist.

Each man also has suitable solo showcases, with Marcin Oleś at one point slip-sliding timbres up the strings; at another doubled string slapping; both of which leads to andante walking. Meanwhile, blunt drum-top strokes and cymbal prestidigitation characterize some of Brat Oleś’ rhythmic thrusts. But if Brown frequently seems to be wrenching every last sweaty ounce of rippled trills from his horn, the drummer’s strategy is more indulgent.

Although Brown’s reed-biting and note squishing is tautly expressed most of the time, he relaxes enough on “Ash Tree” to assay what in these circumstances is a melancholy mid-range ballad. Spreading harsh, altissimo timbres, he links up with low-pitched bowed bass strokes and unattached cymbal rustles. Reaching a climax with intense tongue vibrating in unison with Brat Oleś’ subtle patterning, Brown exits with trumpet-like timbres as every wisp of air is squeezed from his horn.

If Brown’s reed technique on Live can be compared to the use of a steak knife, then Attias’ on Renku in Coimbra is more like that of a butter knife. That isn’t a putdown. Each piece of flatware has a particular function, and Attias’ style is as languid and relaxed as Brown’s is tense and agitated.

Note this particularly during Hébert’s “Universal Constant” which showcases the saxman’s discursive, yet lyrical trilling. Meantime the bassist scrubs and plunks his strings, while Takeishi could be using knitting needles to sound thinner vibrations from cymbals and other parts of his extended kit. Although he’s consistently melodic, his indolent runs are durable as well, and infrequently reflect harsh vibrations.

This track and others are traditional enough to feature a recapping of the theme at the end. Before that there’s plenty of solo room – both during the almost obligatory turnaround and elsewhere. Pianist Russ Lossing even makes a brief, but potent, appearance on one track, recorded like the others at a studio in Coimbra, Portugal, about 3½ months before the Brown-Oleś Brothers CD.

Attias says that Lee Konitz and Jimmy Lyons were two of his earliest influences on alto saxophone. Konitz’s graceful and unhurried stylings are evident on more than the one Konitz composition recorded here. Instructively, the trio’s energetic reading of the latter’s “Sorry” doesn’t differ markedly from how they – and Attias in particular – treat Hébert’s “Wels” or the saxophonist’s own “Do & the Birds”. The latter is almost a rhythm section demonstration, with Takeishi’s mismatched nerve beats, cymbal shakes and wood-block strokes evolving in broken-octave concordance with guitar-like twangs from below the bridge of Hébert’s bass. By the time the saxophonist enters with a mellow texture, the resulting rubato coloration and textural echoes could also be ascribed to the bull fiddler’s almost identical harmonies.

As for his own “Wels”, Hébert’s role is slinky and secondary as the drums bounce and rebound while the altoist hooks onto the treble melody, rubs and caresses it and moves it away from eccentric timbres. Nonetheless, the piece is cantilevered by hard rim shots and fleet-fingered bass string twangs before the lightly accented head is recapped.

Involving musicians of varied backgrounds, both trio sessions demonstrate how, with improvised music a particular, circumstantial alignment can produce first-class music, which can be captured in usual places.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Here & Now Suite Part I – Past 2. Here & Now Suite Part II – Present 3. Here & Now Suite Part III – Future 4. Rebeaming 5. Black Eagle 6. Ash Tree 7. Monkey’s Hour

Personnel: Live: Rob Brown (alto saxophone); Marcin Oleś (bass) and Bartłomiej Brat Oleś (drums)

Track Listing: Renku: 1. Creep 2. Thingin’ 3. Do & the Birds 4. Fenix Culprit* 5. Wels 6. Sorry 7. Universal Constant 8. Creep (Reprise)

Personnel: Renku: Michaël Attias (alto saxophone); Russ Lossing (piano)*; John Hébert (bass) and Satoshi Takeishi (drums and percussion)