Sean Conly

Hard Knocks
Clean Feed CF 472 CD

Colin Webster/Andrew Lisle/Otto Willberg

Static Garbled Dreams

Raw Tonk Records RT 036

Bassist Sean Conly’s New York-based trio and the London trio of Colin Webster/Andrew Lisle/Otto Willberg point out how versatile in conception and application a simple saxophone, bass and drums line-up can be. Conly, who also plays with the likes of Kris Davis and Chad Taylor, recruited alto saxophonist Michaël Attias and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, who have been recording together since at least 2003, to help add flesh and bones to the framework of his sometime delicate and sometime rhythmic original compositions. Meanwhile alto saxophonist Webster, bassist Willberg and drummer Lisle on Static Garbled Dreams are part of a coterie of youngish British exploratory sound probers, who often work with fellow boundary stretchers like Dirk Serries and Mark Haslip.

The British band is at full flight from the get-go with cascades of flutter-tongued reed riffs, sawing bass-string rips and popping pulls matched with rat-tat-tats from the drum set plus cymbal splashes. Throughout, as Willberg rappels up and down the strings, Webster’s common responses are equal parts burbles, stutters, blows and cries. Coming to a track like “Double Sawbuck” the saxophonist’s theme variations take the form of irregular split tones that could also result from blowing on an inner tube; and turning shaggier when the bassist goes off on an extended spiccato sluices, slices and splatters. Remarkably for a session wedded to free-for-all Free Jazz, the drummer lays out or minimizes his volume much of the time, ceding space to the others. Should Lisle, for instance, introduce a track such as “Crullers and Coffee” with dramatic rim shots it’s only to make common cause with Willberg’s equally prodigious guitar-like fingering, setting up an imaginative backing for Webster’s timbral exploration. Distinctively, the performance’s architecture is quickly established with the saxophonist’s gurgling slurs and nephritic split tones on top, the bassist’s ricocheting sprawls and sul ponticello chirps characterizing the centre and Lisle’s pulsing hip-hops commanding the bottom. The end result is a solid groove that is still porous enough to allow for each player’s agile ideas to be suggested and resolved.

Hard Knocks is another vehicle for testing musical ideas, but unlike the dedicated exposition of the other disc, Conly appears intent on trying a group of approaches. For instance “Undertow”, which is built up from measured strokes from the double bass, extends into a semi-ballad form where Attias’ fluid reed timbres and exposition cleave to yarning Freebop, suggesting “Lonely Woman”. The bassist’s subsequent multi-string twanging doesn’t detract from a sprightly ending. In contrast, “Loose Screws” sets up a higher-pitched Beboppy theme where the opposition is double bass string plops verses irregular flutter tonguing. Meanwhile although the introductory title tune features a straight-ahead, simple and quiet narrative, this emphasis on storytelling – and a recapped head at the end – doesn’t preclude experiments in chapter and verse as the piece unfolds. Oddly, the most radical track, the concluding “Afterfact” gives Attias a showcase for sheets of sound split tones, peeping altissimo flutters and multiphonics, although Conly’s relaxed pacing plus an occasional drum roll from Takeishi directs the piece back to a satisfying mid-range swing by the end.

Static Garbled Dreams’ first track is entitled “The Whole Megillah” and by hearing both of these distinctive trio sets you can nearly and almost literally experience the entire breadth of textures from alto saxophone, double bass, percussion invention.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Static: 1. The Whole Megillah 2. Biting in the Clinch 3. Double Sawbuck 4. Static Garbled Dreams 5. Crullers and Coffee

Personnel: Static: Colin Webster (alto saxophone); Otto Willberg (bass) and Andrew Lisle (drums)

Track Listing: Hard: 1. Hard Knocks 2. Totem 3. Undertow 4. Skippin' Town (1000 Mile Rule) 5. Loose Screws 6. Afterfact

Personnel: Hard: Michaël Attias (alto saxophone); Sean Conly (bass) and Satoshi Takeishi (drums)