The Runcible Quintet

Five
FMR CD 437-0217

Should (shudder!) the idea of there being superstars exist in Free Music, trend setters seeking them will have come to the wrong place at a gig by The Runcible Quintet (RQ). If internationally known player are the equivalent of film stars whose mere presence sells a picture, then these quintet members are like the character actors who bring verisimilitude to the celluloid situations. Particular breakthroughs may result from the actions of a few innovators, especially where music is concerned, but the genre’s continued health and dissemination depends on players like these.

At the same time the group which improvised on five untitled tracks ranging from slightly more than 2½ minutes to more than 17½, bring a certain sharpness and subtlety to the program. For a start the band is named for a fork curved like a spoon, mentioned in Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat. Combing decades of experience, the London-based ensemble consists of bassist John Edwards, known for his work with Evan Parker, among many others; soprano saxophonist Adrian Northover, a member of The Remote Viewers; flutist Neil Metcalfe, part of The Dedication Orchestra; drummer Marcello Magliocchi, who has taught percussion and worked pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Joelle Leandre;, and acoustic guitarist Daniel Thompson, who has also played with Parker and been in The London Improvisers Orchestra. Throughout the disc, the main strategy appears to be the contrapuntal face-off between the delicate puffing of Metcalfe’s flute with the hard-edged strumming of Thompson’s strings. No beat-monger, Magliocchi, is a colorist, with additional tinctures supplied by the other two players whose musical sympathies line-up on either side of the string/horn continuum.

By virtue of the sheer length, “(17:14)” come across as the RQ’s major statement. A stop-time extravaganza with riffs cascading in many directions, flute squeaks, sax bites, drum pops, and string scrubs sets up a multiphonic canvas upon which the horns exert stringent pressure. Metcalfe’s angled tone plus Northover’s stretched timbres dig a deep enough groove to gyrate back upon their own textures, and are pushed into overt expressiveness by Thompson’s sly finger picking. Producing a break in what begins to resemble endless rumble, the soprano saxophonist soaring squeak later become the cork in the musical bottle.

Other tracks allow different players to weave their contributions within the defining Metcalfe-Thompson light-dark/soft-hard saw off. Edwards’ shaved spiccato lines temper guitar onslaught at points; while Northover’s forward-pushing vibrations add resolute grit to the flute narration. More a record of a journey by intrepid improvisers than a celebration of goals attained. Five is yet another demonstration of how Free Music continually renews itself, as the highly accomplished if not famous continue to play it.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1 (4:56) 2. (7:34) 3. (12:05) 4. (17:14) 5. (2:34)

Personnel: Adrian Northover (soprano saxophone); Neil Metcalfe (flute); Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar); John Edwards (bass) and Marcello Magliocchi (drums)