John Lindberg BC3

Born in an Urban Ruin
Clean Feed CF 388 CD

Peter Kuhn

Intention

FMR CD 467

Veteran reed players who have become clarinet crusaders in their senior years Peter Kuhn and Wendell Harrison have developed singularly individual concepts which bring innovative extensions to Jazz textures.

Detroit-based Harrison is part of the BC3, organized to play 10 compositions by bassist John Lindberg dealing with the extended decay and partial reconstitution of Rust Belt cities. Best-known for his decades-long membership in The String Trio of New York, Lindberg’s other associate here is vibraphonist/percussionist Kevin Norton, who has worked with everyone from Anthony Braxton to Frode Gjerstad. Slightly older than the others, Harrison was an accepted soul-blues sideman with Hank Crawford and others, then in 1971 returned to Michigan following substance abuse treatment. In Michigan he hooked up with Marcus Belgrave, Harold McKinney and others, was involved in performance and education organizations, founded a couple of record labels and increased his focus on the clarinet in the late 1980s, He plays Bb and bass clarinet on Born in an Urban Ruin.

California-born Kuhn was making his mark on the New York loft scene around the time Harrison returned to Detroit. He played and recorded with William Parker and Denis Charles among many otters, but was also involved with a major substance abuse problem. Because of that, petty crime, minor incarceration and failed 12-step programs, he stayed away from music for 27 years, only returning in 2013 after becoming established in San Diego and having kicked his habit via Zen Buddhist practices. Although he plays tenor saxophone elsewhere, here he concentrates on clarinet and bass clarinet. Many decades his junior, his associates on Intention are bassist Kyle Motl and drummer Nathan Hubbard, who play in ensembles like Hubbard’s Skeleton Key Orchestra.

By prerequisite adept in the chalumeau range, Kuhn moves from snarls and growls to more fluid glissandi, locking in with Motl’s woody pops and crunches that frequently accelerate to guitar-like chording and Hubbard’ subtle rolls and singular squeaks. Uncharacteristically as a self-described “survivor of the NYC loft scene”, swing undertones and head recapping appear on many tunes, no matter how outwardly “outside” they may claim to be. Clanking rims and spiccato strokes may characterize “Arise” for instance, but low-pitched clarinet slurps hold together the narrative.

Meaningfully two of the tracks appear to have a relation to earlier Jazz methodology. There are echoes of Jimmy Giuffre-like swamp Blues on “The Stream”. Alongside Hubbard’s pops and Motl’s solid bass line, plus coloratura to altissimo reed squeaks here, yet a slick modern cast on the formerly rural exposition. “Gift in the Wound” is even more notable. It’s a balladic track that frames a Benny Goodman-like technical clarity from Kuhn with a middle section consisting of variations close to Eric Dolphy’s distinctive bites and slurs. Overall while the CD offers many instances of swirling, squeezed steeplechase-like speed and sound splintering, the after-image left by the trio is of chromatic linear advances.

While conceived with more compositional forethought, Born in an Urban Ruin still has many more sequences where the program stops to showcase Harrison’s liquid-like clarinet tonal expansions; Lindberg’s varnished bass-string command which takes in herculean speed-of-light double and triple-stopping and Pablo Casals-like uncanny melody caressing; plus Norton’s ringing vines that maintain an individual near-dissonance while harmonizing at appropriate points with the other instruments. Unaffected by background or seniority, each trio member is an equal partner, passing ideas from one to another or perhaps having one player suggest a concept and having another complete the musical thought. Similarly the three can create with the sophistication, but without the delicacy, of a so-called classical chamber ensemble. An example of this is “Left Wrist Part II’ where the bassist’s woody slaps grip the bottom when not advancing swift flamenco-styled strums, the clarinet trills and twitters arch skywards and the vibes echo with harpsichord-like tones.

The extended “Devastation of Vegetation” and following “Born in an Urban Ruin” provide the CD’s climax in terms of lyrical avant-gardism. Mixing smoothness and rigidity as Harrison’s clarinet moves from dog-like yelps to moderated slurs, the most notable part of this program is how Norton’s vibe position keep the track moving evenly with harmonized mallet-on-keys pressure. Clarinets upfront can still produce as meaningful music as they did in the heyday of Benny Goodman and following Jimmy Giuffre’s iconoclastic vision. These CDs confirm this.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Intention: 1. Intention 2. ChaWang 3. The Stream 4. Perception Deception

5. The Path 6. Arise 7. Gift in the Wound 8. Resilience 9. Disaster and After

Personnel: Intention: Peter Kuhn (clarinet and bass clarinet); Kyle Motl (bass) and Nathan Hubbard (drums)

Track Listing: Born: 1. Swooping Deep (clarinet version) 2. Vermont Roadside Family 3. The Left Wrist (For Roy Campbell in memoriam) Part I 4. Left Wrist Part II 5. Left Wrist Part III 6. The Excavation 7. Swooping Deep 8. Devastation of Vegetation 9. Born in an Urban Ruin 10. Swooping Deep (bass version)

Personnel: Born: Wendell Harrison (Bb and bass clarinet); John Lindberg (bass) and Kevin Norton (vibes and percussion)