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Three For All
Challenge Records CHR 70130
Baby boomers on either side of 60, these three jazzmen triply confirm that veterans continue to make personal, well-crafted music without falling into the twin traps of self-parodying nostalgia or unwarranted experimentation.
Veteran of their own bands and associations with heavyweights such as Miles Davis, John Scofield and Carla Bley, saxophonist/flautist Dave Liebman, electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum apprenticed in the 1960s and 1970s and survived most of the twists and trends of the decades since. Mostly avoiding fads like fusion, theyve stayed true to their own vision(s).
If Three For All is a little conservative, its because the trio members are perfectly content in their musical skins. Theyre not rule-breaking visionaries like to take examples of those who played the same instruments, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus or Tony Williams but tradition extenders. Thus everything here from the originals Liebman and Nussbaum pen two each; Swallow three to the standards by Davis, Thelonious Monk and even Warren-Dubin, stays within the bounds of good taste. This isnt music that calls for jaw-dropping awe, but rather quiet appreciation.
Even Liebman, who on his solo discs and duos with drummer Abbey Rader often touches on the avant garde, reins himself in until Nussbaums BTU, the final track. Here he spouts gritty split tones, tongue flutters and glottal punctuation in false registers. For the finale, his rubato recap of the head fuses impressively with the drummers thumping and pumping.
Earlier his usually andante tenor saxophone phrasing synchronizes Cool saxists such as Stan Getz, his Bop antecedents like George Coleman, and on I Only Have Eyes for You, with Swallow outputting tasty fills as if he was a six-string guitarist Forest Flower-era Charles Lloyd.
More noteworthy are his soprano saxophone forays, especially on the title track where his swooping and trilling cadences turn to intense obbligatos. Legato, his timbre doesnt disturb, but neither is it wimpy. Meanwhile Swallow accompanies it with flat-picking strums as if Liebman is a singer-songwriter not a jazz instrumentalist.
Liebmans own The Jewish Warrior introduced with chirping tones, makes it sound as if the combatant in question is a Japanese samurai not a Hebrew fighter. Before the saxophonist ends the tune with a display of traverse triple-tonguing, its middle section finds him outputting moderato soprano lines that swerve to shadow Nussbaums frequent tempo changes.
A metric chameleon, the drummer never lets the beat escape or turn around. Yet while maintaining a steady pulse, he introduces rhythmic variations including Latin inferences, pumping shuffles and basic bounces. Cross sticking and cross pumping, his teamwork with Swallow is such that only rarely do you realize that the bassist is actually walking.
No swan song for spent heroes or record of the next hot thing, Three For All impresses with the almost effortless competence and musicality of We Three.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. What Time Is It 2. Played Twice 3. We 3 4. Up and Adam 5. The Jewish Warrior 6. Whistling Past the Graveyard 7. I Only Have Eyes for You 8. Cycling 9. All Blues 10. The Start of Something Small 11. BTU
Personnel: Dave Liebman (tenor and soprano saxophones and flute); Steve Swallow (electric bass); Adam Nussbaum (drums)
November 14, 2006
The Lost Chords
STEVE SWALLOW/OHAD TALMOR
LHistoire du Clochard
Palmetto PM 2103
Forty years on from when he first made his mark serving as the rhythmic backbone of many different bands, Steve Swallow is now as noted as a composer he is as the foremost electric bass guitar player in modern jazz.
Each of these CDs showcases one of his talents. He wrote the seven compositions that make up the LHISTOIRE DU CLOCHARD (the bums tale), which were then arranged and orchestrated by Israeli-American tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor for a chamber sextet. THE LOST CHORDS is a straight up combo session, recorded live on a European tour. The nine whimsical tunes are from veteran pianist Carla Bley, who often writes unique music for larger ensembles, but here confines herself to a compact all-star jazz quartet. Besides Bley and Swallow, the members are American drummer Billy Drummond, who usually plays with Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes, and saxophonist Andy Sheppard from the United Kingdom. Sheppard, an original soloist, is neither part of the BritImprov avant-garde nor a fellow traveller with the U.K.s band of neo-conservatives.
Young enough to be included in that neo-con crew, but with much wider interests, Talmor, recently was honored by the European Broadcasting Union as composer of the year for 2004. He has written for legit musicians like Austrias Spring String Quartet, while also composing and performing regularly with his own bands and co-op ventures such as The Other Quartet, co-led by trumpeter Russ Johnson, who is featured on this CD. The other band members include clarinetist Greg Tardy, the most impressive soloist here, who performs similar woodwind duties for pianists Uri Caines and Andrew Hills projects, trombonist Jacob Garchik and violinist Meg Okura.
While he cant be faulted for ambition, Talmors idea of scoring Swallows compositions for a sextet built around the moods and instrumentation of Igor Stravinskys LHistoire du Soldat (the soldiers tale) smacks of misplaced artiness. Listening to the performances the resemblance isnt so much Third Stream, but One-and-One-Half Steam with the default towards so-called serious music. Taking Soldat as an orchestral model has major drawbacks that result from more than a decision to substitute Talmors tenor saxophone for the bassoon in the ensemble. Described as ground breaking in form at its first performance in 1918, Soldat is often said to be indebted to jazz when played in classical circles; improvised music followers may disagree.
If Stravinsky was able to hear any jazz, or hot dance music for that matter, before writing the piece it would have been the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and subsequent readings of the soloist-oriented Soldat would have been similarly hampered.
This formalist orientation seems to have been transmitted into the arrangement and solos on CLOCHARD, with tone purity and impressionistic harmonies predominating. Okura in particular suffers in this environment. Nearly all of her work is played delicately, emphasizing melodic qualities to the expense of all else, as if Nathan Milstein was playing the passages.
Johnson too appears to be holding back, at points sounding as if his instrument is a baroque trumpet, at others, as on Some Echoes as if he was merely an orchestral first trumpeter reading his part. Accented grace notes and muted slurs may appear elsewhere, but sadly the tenor of his work is about what one would expect from a symphonic brassman, not an improviser. Garchicks more-than restrained plunger work throughout is also part of the formal, neo-classical mind set.
Talmors light-toned (Stan) Getzian tenor saxophone, with its sweeping ornamental lines also seems to emphasize consonant, rather then dissonant chords, with nearly every track overpowered by resplendent string and horn harmonies. Swallow himself peeks infrequently out of the orchestral arrangements, but merely to contribute the odd guitar-like grace note. Thats why Tardy stands out. Utilizing glissandi and some heartfelt trills he brings an idea of the outdoors to a CD that seems locked in the recital chamber and front parlor.
Moreover, the tune that appear to be least precious also suggest the influence of other non-classical music. The swing feel of Chelsea Bells, for instance, brings with it a suggestion of Oliver Nelsons Stolen Moments slowed down to natural and delicate counterpoint. Meanwhile Ladies In Mercedes echoes Kurt Weills cabaret sounds. Freeing itself from a tone combination that often makes the performance sound as if its played on a giant accordion, only Tardy gets real space for impressive, double-tongued twitters and chirps. Surprisingly Talmor then contributes a slithery, flutter tongue section, the brass exhibits double counterpoint in response and Okura swirls speedy jettes that bring almost all of her strings into the exposition. If only the whole CD had been done this way.
In contrast to the rarefied air of the other CD, THE LOST CHORDS comes across as a prototypical live session with four professionals adding some torque to tunes that were played on this 20-city European tour. Recorded live, some of the applause may result from the musicians presence rather than the performance itself.
Overall, the best track is Hip Hop, one of Bleys herky-jerky compositions that is undoubtedly named with onomatopoeia for long-term travellers discomfort, rather than for the movement in rap music. Built around a restrained backbeat and cymbal flaps from Drummond, it opens into a darting semi-gospelish line from Bley, that while double-timed, includes rhythmic walking bass from her left hand. It also allows Sheppard to indulge himself in some staccato reed bursts that opens up into rivulets of overblowing. It ends with Bley returning to simple cadences to trade fours with Swallows contrasting chromatic runs and the saxmans repeated snorts.
Other tunes such as The Maze/Blind Mice Redux and Lost Chords II play up the pianists Monkish tinting and note-bending. Her idiosyncratic note bending solo calls for straight rhythm backing from Swallow on the first tune, plus straightforward lines from Sheppard. The second may not contain that many lost chords since at points this foot tapper sounds like a combination of Milestones and other bop lines.
Red consists of dancing piano lines behind an extended Swallow solo. Yet while his guitar-like facility stands out, his reliance on upper partials almost negates the very bass-ness of his axe, forcing the tune to rely on Bleys left handed chording.
Sheppards showcase is Wink Leak/Traps/Leonard Feather, where his theme variations are played with spiraling, circular breathed trills. On soprano saxophone, he builds his solo by sounding phrases then answering them with differently accented lines. Drummonds bounces and Swallows flanges keeps the beat going, with the coda a theatrical reworking of Stormy Weather by Bley.
Some of the other tunes veer a little close to smooth jazz, making it appear as if the group couldnt rouse itself out of running the changes one more time.
Belying its title Tropical Depression is a masterful summation of the whole disc though. Based on an ever-shifting stop time rhythmic pattern that reverberate step by step with decorative arpeggios and cadences from Sheppards tenor saxophone, its slinky theme depends on a habanera section from Bley, extended by gliding bass inserts from Swallow.
A good, not great, example of Bley and Swallows capability, THE LOST CHORDS is pleasant enough, though far from her or his best work. It does score higher than LHISTOIRE DU CLOCHARD, though because it expends less energy to reach its much more limited goals. CLOCHARD is more than a failure, but less than a success.
Maybe the best idea for Talmor would be to concentrate on his own vision, rather than trying to extending Stravinskys or Swallows. That original concept will be the one to watch for and hear.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Clochard: 1.Making Ends Meet 2, Sweeping Up 3. Chelsea Bells 4. Some Echoes 5. Ladies In Mercedes 6. Hullo Bolinas 7. Im Your Pal
Personnel: Clochard: Russ Johnson (trumpet and flugelhorn); Jacob Garchik (trombone); Greg Tardy (clarinet); Ohad Talmor (tenor saxophone); Meg Okura (violin); Steve Swallow (bass guitar)
Track Listing: Chords: 3 Blind Mice: 1. 3 Blind Mice 2. Wink Leak/Traps/Leonard Feather 3. The Maze/Blind Mice Redux 4. Hip Hop 5. Tropical Depression 6. Red 7) Lost Chords I 8. Lost Chords II 9. Lost Chords III
Personnel: Andy Sheppard (soprano and tenor saxophones); Carla Bley (piano); Steve Swallow (bass guitar); Billy Drummond (drums)
March 7, 2005
Wobbly Rail 013
JIMMY GIUFFRE/PAUL BLEY/STEVE SWALLOW
Fly Away Little Bird
Sunnyside/Owl SSC 3504
Named for the LP that presented the fullest realization of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffres chamber-avant garde in 1962, the band Free Fall shows how the structured freedom of the trio can be adapted to the 21st Century.
Yet FURNACE succeeds on its own terms because the musicians involved -- American reedist Ken Vandermark and Norwegians, pianist Håvard Wiik and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten -- havent gone the neo-con route of recreation. Instead nine new compositions have been recorded, with the performance of the three as influenced by the subsequent 40 years plus of improv experimentation as the original Giuffre trios sound.
Fascinatingly enough the final (1992) reunion CD of the original Giuffre FREE FALL trio -- pianist Paul Bley and now electric bassist Steve Swallow join Giuffre -- doesnt much sound like what the three recorded in 1962 either. Although it has interesting sections of its own, FLY AWAY LITTLE BIRD doesnt match up to FURNACE, nor does it reach the standards set on others discs by the trio 30 years previously. Giuffre appears to be less than low-key -- he may be showing the first signs of Parkinsons disease that now prevents him from playing -- Swallows electric bass obliterates the nuances he was capable of with his acoustic. And Bley seems to feel he has to try to knit together the unraveling strands with overt, almost overbearing pianisms.
On FURNACE, Vandermark, whose eagerness to record means that he sometimes overextends himself, has linked up with two schooled Europeans to express his vision. Both veterans of Vandermarks School Days project and large Territory band, Håker Flaten has worked with everyone from Finnish electric jazz guitarist Raoul Björkenheim to the all-star freebop Electrics group with German trumpeter Axel Dörner and Swedish drummer Raymond Strid -- both of whom have also played with Vandermark. Håker Flaten and Wiik are also two-fifths of Atomic, a popular Norwegian jazz combo that modernizes Cool Jazz concepts.
Before FREE FALL Giuffre practically invented Cool Jazz with his Four Brothers chart for the Woody Herman Herd. But Vandermarks focus here is on 1960s icons, with tunes dedicated to Bley, reedist Eric Dolphy and most impressively, poet Frank OHara and pianist Bill Evans.
The OHara tribute and title tune is more abrasively experimental than anything attempted by the original Giuffre three. Built around Håker Flatens heavy bass lines, you can actually hear the strings finish being scraped as he pulls and pushes, double and triple stopping this side of slap bass territory. Wiik responds with a sped up tremolo section and a split-second glissando, as Vandermark honks, growls and slurs his reed into freak altissimo tones. By the end, all three are speedily sluicing on all four cylinders.
Surprisingly enough for a piece dedicated to Evans, Half Past Soon is a steady swinger based on passing piano chords plus false fingering and flattement from Vandermarks clarinet. Then again Evans did have a long association with clarinetist Tony Scott, who was an unabashed bebopper. Perhaps Wiiks harmonic polyphony mixed with Impressionistic arpeggios and Vandermarks double timed reprising of the theme is a sort of homage to that earlier partnership.
Vandermark also shows off his skill as a bass clarinetist on Hopscotch and other tunes. On Hopscotch, as the pianist introduces subtle contrasting dynamics, the reedist puts a bit of torque onto his warmer, low-pitched register, smearing his lines until he joins with Wiik for a unison exit.
More puzzling, while it does indeed vanish Into The Air as the title has it, the slow moving, dissonant harmonies of that tune seem a lot closer to the work of the honored Giuffre trio than anything played by dedicatee Eric Dolphy. Especially since when the piece moves to mid-range, its cascading piano chords and resonating strummed bass line cement that impression.
As a writer, Wiiks Emergency is a fast, snaky line made up of double timed, flashing keyboard syncopation, powerful walking bass and liquid, almost Swing Era slurs from the clarinet. Two-thirds of the way through it speeds up even more, introducing dancing piano octaves and clarinet squeaks.
Moving from energy to possible exhaustion and from FURNACE to the progenitors on FREE FALL, the Giuffre reunion CD compounds a desultory delivery with a time of more than 76½ minutes. Removing some band takes on over-familiar standards and some shorter solo features could have tightened up a session that already seems a little distracted.
Even when the three men reunite for another run through of Gordon Jenkins Goodbye which they recorded both in studio and live in 1962, the effect is this side of melancholy. With Giuffre sounding merely wistful and Swallows lines too upfront, Bley
produces a series of single note tremolos and low frequency, cushioning harmonies. The same thing happens on the title tune, as Giuffres moderate Bel Canto tone and Bleys impressionistic fingering in quiet quadrants greatly contrast with Swallows now resonating, guitar-like tone.
On his own, the pianist, who is honored with a song dedication on FURNACE, uses his space to confirm his solo prowess. On Qualude he explores the darker possibilities of the duplex scale. With theme snatches suggesting Somewhere and Jesus Christ Superstar, his steady left hand trickles out some blues-like notes as the right produces tremolo cadenzas. By the end boogie-woogie inflected double timing has given the smooth balladic melody some unexpected spikiness. All this succinctly sums up Bleys iconoclasm.
Boogie-woogie stylings even seeps into Possibilities, the next tune. Bley splashes octave runs, Swallows spews a constant rhythmic thrust and Giuffre mewls the melody from the soprano saxophone. Whether Swallows buzzing accompaniment helps or hinders matters, the reedist makes it clear with his double tonguing that hes no John Coltrane or Steve Lacy. Hes also older than either one.
Tumbleweed, the reedmans solo feature, finds him alternately sing-shouting and playing. While it may be Giuffres most distinctively avant-garde showcase, the vocalized mixture of Spanish and gibberish could probably have been dispensed with -- it adds very little to the date. He shows his control of the licorice stick through, first squealing out notes in tip top pitch then blowing them out slowly in chalumeau register until the theme is reconstructed out of strained tongue stops and trilled split tones.
At almost 11½ minute, the albums showcase, Bats in the Belfry, a sonorous rondo seems to be an instant composition. Giuffre breaths out the theme in familiar fashion followed by single note fills from Bley. Light-fingered piano arpeggios spur the reedman to elongate his smears, then Swallows repeated undertow allows the other two to project breezy lines on top. With Giuffre in mellow, mid-range, Bley starts dampening the key action for more percussive sounds that join with strums and slaps from Swallow. Building up a combination of constricted string action and the occasional keyboard accent, Bley leads Giuffre to end the track -- and the session -- with a flutter-tongued trill.
Giuffres trio should be honored for its pioneering avant-chamber work that is wanly reflected on certain tunes of this CD. But, if it wasnt for the Giuffre trio, the fine disc that FURNACE is wouldnt have come into existence.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Furnace: 1. Inside Out (for Paul Bley) 2. The Spell of Introspection 3. Hopscotch (for Merce Cunningham) 4. Furnace (for Frank OHara) 5. Into The Air (for Eric Dolphy) 6. Half Past Soon (for Bill Evans) 7. Momento 8. Halfway 9. Emergency
Personnel: Furnace: Ken Vandermark (Bb and bass clarinets); Håvard Wiik (piano); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass)
Track Listing: Fly: 1. Fly Away Little Bird 2. Fits 3. I Cant Get Started 4. Qualude 5. Possibilities 6. Tumbleweed 7. All The Things You Are 8. Starts 9. Goodbye 10. Just Dropped By 11. Lover Man 12. Sweet and Lovely 13. Bats in the Belfry
Personnel: Fly: Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet and soprano saxophone, vocal); Paul Bley (piano); Steve Swallow (electric bass)
April 26, 2004
BOBBY PREVITE & BUMP
Just Add Water
Palmetto PM 2081
For years the definition of the so-called downtown New York drummer, Bobby Previte has never stopped moving for long. He has mixed it up with everyone from saxophonist John Zorn to guitarist Elliott Sharp, helmed a variety of bands with ever more bizarre names, scored indie films, appeared as an actor in a Robert Altman movie, given percussion workshops, and written music for the Moscow Circus.
Organized as a combo to tour Europe playing the music of his remarkable debut LP in 1987, the dynamism of this Bump band encouraged him to write new tunes and this CD is the happy result. Built around a rhythm section of veteran electric bass player Steve Swallow, pianist and old friend Wayne Horvitz and Previte, the group has space age tailgate specialist trombonist Ray Anderson, Marty Ehrlich, unexpectedly on tenor saxophone, as its front line. Bumps blowers are expanded by Defunkt trombonist Joseph Bowie on this disc.
Exploring that POMO netherworld where the shades of Albert Ayler, Red Garland and Tricky Sam Nanton and the Bar Keys seem to coexist, the music is held together by Prevites powerful, yet moderated rumbles and tumbles.
Biggest surprise is Ehrlich, recording on the larger sax for the first time, or first time in a long, long while. Divorced from his expected clarinet, bass clarinet or soprano and alto saxophone he seems to be channeling the spirit of Big Al Sears, who was both an Ellington band member and pioneer R&B honker. On Stingray for instance, which is driven like the Corvette by Prevites drum rolls, he and the bones voice what could easily be a Stax/Volt horn line, complimenting Horvitzs piano which mixed rockabilly and a Garland of Reds blues. Additionally, his bar walking tenor squeals on the funky 53 Maserati, may reference his early apprenticeship in St. Louis avant Black Artists Group, yet probably sound very familiar to the drummer, reminding him of the honky tonks of his Niagara Falls, N.Y. boyhood. One the other hand, Ehrlich exhibits a deep chested Swing era vibrato on Put Away Your Crayons and his solo feature, Nice Try.
Anderson (and possibly Bowie -- it isnt clear if hes on every track) moves comfortably through the eras, exhibiting his (their?) jungle band growl for Everything I Want then blasting into the Arkestra-explored stratosphere on All Hail Kirby! Perverse as is his wont, the drummer/composer offers subtle cymbals and brushwork on the former but distorts the later with a backbeat that appears to be derived from Lee Morgans The Sidewinder. Both bones are definitely onboard for the miniature foottapper 63 as they race around Ehrlichs upraised Ayler-like sax lines.
All together, this CD is convincing evidence of how many disparate strands of playing and thinking can be brought together. Listening to Prevites new tunes you get a rare glimpse of Ehrlichs tenor playing, Swallows more felt-than-heard bass backup away from Carla Bley and his usual associates, Horvitz playing acoustic piano jazz instead of his more derivative keyboard and electronics, and two top tooting trombonists.
Prevites recent BITCHES BREW tribute band Horse was derivative and merely one more Miles emulation. Its obvious after listening to this session that hes better off and more impressive going his own way, recalling his past rather than anothers.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Put Away Your Crayons 2. Nice Try 3. Leave Here Now 4. 53 Maserati 5. 63 6. Stingray 7. Everything I Want 8. All Hail Kirby! 9/ Theme for an Imaginary Dénouement
Personnel: Ray Anderson, Joseph Bowie (trombones); Marty Ehrlich (tenor saxophone); Wayne Horvitz (piano); Steve Swallow (electric bass); Bobby Previte (drums)
February 8, 2002