Rob Clutton Trio

Counsel of Primaries
SnailBoingBoing Records SBB 007

Sean Conly/Michaël Attias/Tom Rainey

Live at the Bushwick Series

Gauci Music Recordings No #

Whit Dickey

Expanding Light

Tao Forms Tao 02

Stretching the compact intimacy of the saxophone-bass-drum group in varied modes, one Toronto and two New York-based trios follow individual paths on these discs. While two are ostensibly directed by double bassists and the other by a drummer each group functions as a fused unit.

A long-time associate of the likes of David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp, Manhattan drummer Whit Dickey’s is known on the international advanced music scene. So too so the other players function as leaders and sidefolk: alto saxophonist Rob Brown with William Parker and bassist Brandon Lopez with Dave Rempis. Fellow New Yorkers bassist Sean Conly, leader of Live at the Bushwick, is in bands with drummer Ton Rainey, Furthermore Rainey is a leader in his own right as is alto saxophonist Michaël Attias, who has worked internationally with players such as Jean-Brice Godet. Toronto bassist Rob Clutton is in demand in the city working with players like Lina Allemano, while alto saxophonist Karen Ng and drummer Nick Fraser have recorded with everyone from Marilyn Lerner to Tony Malaby.

Consisting of 10 Clutton compositions, Counsel of Primaries balances intimacy and antipathy throughout as the tracks volley among harmonized tripartite expositions, forceful extended techniques and tapered instrumental expression which display the trio members’ ease in describing delicate as well as dissonant themes. “Cloak” is one of the latter as it mixes mature and moderated bass string undulations and fluid reed tongue fluttering that pick up an extra layer of sweetness despite drum pops joining with the others at the finale. A Ng showcase, “Thing One” matches unaccompanied altissimo tones squeezed from the saxophonist that evolve to fanciful note clusters when backed by conversational bass thumps and woody beats that emphasize Fraser’s stick work. The illuminating “Old Nick” shows how a track can be a sophisticated neo R&B tune. That’s because it’s propelled by carefully placed accents from Clutton’s strings and bass drum emphasis from Fraser yet never loses its relaxed pace or falls into unwarranted pseudo-funk. Combination factors come into play on “Hounds”, which may be the date’s defining track. Characterized by a round robin dialogue, the simple Kwela-like melody floats along as the three work in solo, tandem duo and trio forms, blending bass double stopping, slurping reed whistles and cymbal clips into expressive theme variations.

Coming from an almost completely opposite approach is the Conly-Attias-Rainey disc, consisting of two extended improvisations in a live Brooklyn setting. Launched with throbbing double bass notes decorated with reed beeps, peeps and resounds, the story-telling variations arise and subside as Attias varies his reed amplifications from thin curlicue smears, repeated tremolo patterns and the occasional foghorn-pitches extensions while Rainey clips and clatters and Conly strums his strings. The first track’s finale occurs as the saxophonist’s altissimo screeches are shaded into nearly endless variations as Rainey accompanies every turn with positioned thumps. While the second track includes a gradual reveal of the saxophonist’s story-telling narrative to become a smooth conclusion, following an extended pause the reprise or encore reveals the monster lurking within the three-person Dr. Frankenstein. Suddenly the real ending consists of an explosion of high-pitched reed slurs, hard drum top lacerations and pressurized pumps from the bassist.

As frenetic in parts as the Brooklyn trio, but committed to worldly examination of Dickey’s six themes is the band on Expanding Light. While never dominating the proceedings, throughout the drummer varies his adjunct patterning from straight smash to Latin-like accents to splayed adornment and cymbal skimming. Self-effacing but full-bodied in his playing, Lopez, often begins or buoys tunes with reverberating plucks, high-pitched angled pops or toned down, low-pitched sweeps. Because of this Brown is most frequently upfront, pushing his saxophone to multiphonic vibrations or strained glissandi. An example of this occurs on the title track which expands from an uncomplicated Ornette Coleman-like exposition to a narrative that is sliced and diced to perfection by the saxophonist. Flutter tonguing, screaming freak notes and tongue slapping, he sometime appear to be outputting a dialogue with himself, answering his vamps almost as soon as they’re expressed. To match this energy, Dickey up his power smacking his cymbals and Mylar with pent-up power as Lopez whirls twangs into the mix. Eventually the boiling momentum ceases with Brown outputting the ultimate reed squeak. Other tracks such as “Desert Flower” demonstrate Dickey’s studied tone shading when Brown’s timbres gradually turn louder, higher and slimmer despite mid-range pressure from the bass and drums. In contrast “Plateau” reaches its plateau and then peak as Brown’s higher register trills fulfill dramatic roles as they sneak out from under the rhythm section eddy and flow which reconfigure the pieces from an introduction of cymbal and bass drum smashes.

Each trio session has much to recommend it. While none is the final word on saxophone-bass-drum group definition, each confirms the legitimacy of and the elation that can arise from configurations of this sort.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Counsel: 1. Strata 2. Festival 3. Sterling 4. Counsel of Primaries 5, Cloak 6. Hounds 7. Thing One 8. Old Nick 9. Shelter 10, Magnetic

Personnel: Counsel: Karen Ng (alto saxophone); Rob Clutton (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Improvisation #1 2. Improvisation #2

Personnel: Live: Michaël Attias (alto saxophone); Sean Conly (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums)

Track Listing: Expanding: 1. The Outer Edge 2. Desert Flower 3. Plateau 4. Expanding Light 5. Möbius 6. The Opening

Personnel: Expanding: Rob Brown (alto saxophone); Brandon Lopez (bass) and Whit Dickey (drums)