Cooper Moore/Stephen Gauci

Studio Sessions Vol. 1 GauciMusic No #

Cale Brandley with Triptych Myth

Finding Fire

Birdwatcher Records BW 005

After nearly 50 years of practicing his craft, New York-based multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore, 72, has become an elder statesman of Free Music, able to ramp up the creativity in just about any situation. Prime instances of this, Studio Sessions Vol. 1and Finding Fire demonstrate the pianist and hoe-handle harp master’s contributions in CDs recorded nearly a decade and apart.

A curious artifact, Finding Fire was recorded in 2005, when the Triptych Myth trio consisting of Cooper-Moore, bassist Tom Abbs and drummer Chad Taylor was a working group. The outlier here is Cale Brandley, who plays tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and ney, and wrote all the tunes. Brandley, who now lives in the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, was studying in New York at the time and the group joined him for this recording after he and Cooper-More had gigged. An imposing slab of unadorned Free Jazz, Studio Sessions Vol. 1 has Cooper-More just playing piano matching sonic inventions with tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci, following a seven-month residency the two had at a Brooklyn music space.

Skating awfully close to New Age and even Smooth Jazz at times on Finding Fire, it often appears if it’s up to the others to mute Brandley’s ambient and mystical bent expressed through wispy ney currents and chanting. What prevents track like “And Snow Began to Fall” from becoming lachrymose are the dulcimer-like strokes from Cooper-Moore’s hoe-handle harp, which pluck ruggedly through a New Age obbligato from Brandley’s reed. Oddly enough as well, dispute its tile and flutter-tongued weepy theme which depends on the widest timbres possible from a saxophone, “Morning Star” the somewhat overwrought theme is a contrafact of “Ebb Tide” with equivalent downswing piano comping.

Much more palatable, at least for Free Jazzers, is the CD’s longest and title tune. Here a pumping drum beat, clip-clop pianism, bass string probing and even contralto reed buzzes expressed as almost New Thing era motifs get a firmer airing. Eventually on “Yemen”, Brandley move past 1970s Pharoah Sanders-isms to an outpouring that includes Morse Code-like stutters, tonic smears and balladic sweeps. Abbs’ bass strategy contains string stabs and stops, Taylor adds slaps and pumps and Cooper-Moore’s majestic cadenzas encompass tremolo syncopation, between-the-key timbre exposure and cunning keyboard sweeps.

Skip forward a few years and with no diminishing of piano power Cooper-Moore is fairly partnered by Gauci in a classic tenor-piano duo which announces it intensions at the beginning of “Improvisation #1” when sawing keyboard arpeggios are immediately challenged by a harsh nephritic reed cry. The saxophonist – who has recorded with Kirk Knuffke and Michael Bisio among others – and the pianist reach their melded zenith on “Improvisation #6” and “Improvisation #8”. The first is a fluid unrolling of keyboard jumps and jolts that soon sensuously slows down as the saxophonist begins to kinetically extract vibrating pitches and renal pumps from his horn, then reverses his strategy, accelerating to screechy cries and atonal altissimo. At the half-way mark, Cooper-Moore ceases his sly keyboard slithers and skips to use his pedals to suggest a low-pitched Ellington-like melody that contrasts powerfully with the saxophonist re-entering the improvisation with shrill snorts. Albert Ayler’s and Charles Gayle’s approach to glossolalia and multiphonics hover over “Improvisation #8”, as Gauci’s reed textures slip and soar, exposing tone partials along with root sounds. At the same time Cooper-Moore’s fantasia of jerks and broad sweeps provide a comforting ostinato until basement-pitched syncopated notes lead to a climax of passing tones and tremolo shudders from the saxophonist. Frenetic reed extensions are subsumed beneath an off-handed piano groove.

Like the best piano-saxophone duos, Cooper-Moore and Gauci aren’t limited by any sort of shibboleths, Free Jazz or otherwise. And other tracks such as Improvisation #2” and “Improvisation #5”, prove that, especially in the pianist’s case, a thread of melodic inventiveness and traditional Jazz accompaniment surfaces from time to time and is used to its best advantage. Hints of boogie-woogie or soul Jazz improvising are heard alongside unreconstructed Fire Music.

Not too soft, but a little out of step with contemporary timbre searching, Finding Fire will be of most interest to those who prefer melody and mysticism mixed win with improvisation. Studio Sessions Vol. 1 on the other hand is top-notched instance of accomplished emotional Free Jazz, with the hope that Vol. 1 means that other sessions will soon surface.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Finding: 1. Goose Berries 2. Finding Fire. Sunset Park, After the Sun Sets 4. Yemen 5. And Snow Began to Fall 6. Morning Star 7. River Otter

Personnel: Finding: Cale Brandley (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and ney); Cooper-Moore (piano); Tom Abbs (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums)

Track Listing: Studio: 1. Improvisation #1 2. Improvisation #2 3. Improvisation #3 4. Improvisation #4 5. Improvisation #5 6. Improvisation #6 7. Improvisation #7 8. Improvisation #8

Personnel: Studio: Stephen Gauci (tenor saxophone) and Cooper Moore (piano)