Tony Marsh & Cheffa Alonso

Goodbye Red Rose (2008/9)
Emanem 5043

By Ken Waxman

One of those journeyman players, who like character actors in classic films, appears distinctively in many scenes, but without upfront billing, drummer Tony Marsh made his mark on many facets of British jazz. Starting in the ‘70s, Marsh who died at 72, five years ago this month, established himself in contemporary settings with established figures like Don Weller and Mike Westbrook, only to invest his final years embedded in free music with the London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO), and groups featuring Paul Dunmall, Evan Parker and younger innovators. One was the now-Madrid-based soprano saxophonist Cheffa Alonso. Souvenir of her four-year British sojourn, Goodbye Red Rose is an almost 69-minute CD recorded in three different spaces that illuminate how the duo evolved over a one year period. By “Huesa (not Wesker)” the final track, the two erstwhile LIO members have become such simpatico improvisers that they’re like an old married couple finishing one another’s sentences.

Given the X-ray-like image aurally projected from this stripped down instrumentation, from the beginning it becomes obvious that Marsh is actually the more reserved player. As Alonso’s tone snarls and nips at the theme, the drummer’s surges are rhythmic yet unruffled, even when he hits the bass drum. Six months along, staccato bites and flutter tonguing mark the saxophonist throwing off ideas with the intensity of a lightening shower and gradually extending her solos. Yet like a press secretary trying to put a politician’s statements into context, tracks such as “Flimflam one (Flimflam Uno)” and “Frusleria Tres (FlimFlam three)” show Marsh repetative drum pops and cymbal sizzles tactfully holding the line so squirming reed wiggles don’t shatter into incoherence.

Capping it all is “Huesa (not Wesker)” recorded a further five months later, where the saxophonist’s pinched, Oriental-like vibrations don’t prevent the two from hitting a groove of shimmering intensity one-third of the way through and maintaining it until the finale. Layering his beats as if placing mortar among bricks, Marsh’s spot-on plops ingeniously slow down the tune so that the result adds maturity to the groove. Besides bidding farewell to one of London`s free music spaces Goodbye Red Rose serves as a fitting send off for a journeyman drummer, some of whose best playing was done near the end of his life.

Tracks: Goodbye Red Rose (Adios Red Rose); By The Hand (de la mano); FlimFlam one (FlimFlam uno); No Es Un Truco (it is not a trick); Frusleria Tres (FlimFlam three); Huesca (not Wesker)

Personnel: Chefa Alonso (soprano saxophone) and Tony Marsh (percussion)

—For The New York City Jazz Record May 2017