|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Paul Hession
Two Falls & A Submission
Bo’Weavil weavil 44 CD
Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor
Not Two MW-854-2
Blunt, powerful, unrelieved improvisation is the collective raison d’être of these sessions, which conclusively emphasize the polyphonic textures that arise from the intersection of a mere three acoustic instruments. Naturally it helps that the six players involved are experienced technically and committed to sonic exploration.
The variables are partially transatlantic. Alto and tenor saxophonist Avram Fefer, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Chad Taylor are American; alto and baritone saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Paul Hession are British. Besides this, the nine tracks Fefer recorded in studio are dedicated to the memory of his late father; the three extended tracks on the other CD were recorded during a rare club gig by Hession, Wilkinson and Fell.
More of a group effort, Two Falls & A Submission captures only part of the trio members’ mercurial careers. Fell leads his own combos and has also been successful composing extended works for gargantuan ensembles. Hession is one of the United Kingdom’s busiest drummers, working with players ranging from saxophonist George Haslam to bassoonist Mick Beck. The work ethic extends to his longtime associate Wilkinson, who has had affiliations with bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble among many others.
Revis and Taylor are similarly active and adaptable. The bassist is best-known for his gigs with trumpeter Russell Gunn and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, while the drummer’s less mainstream affiliations include saxophonist Fred Anderson and as half of the Chicago Underground Duo, cornetist Rob Mazurek. More exploratory, Fefer’s playing partners have ranged from trombonist Steve Swell to pianist Bobby Few.
Revis’ mainstream command of bulky, unaffected bass lines is needed on Eliyahu since Taylor’s resourceful beat tinting is on displays as much as his time-keeping. Meanwhile the saxophonist is constantly on, spinning out elongated lines from both his horns, rife with glossolalia and extended techniques, tongue stops and flutters as well as reed bites. A piece such as “Wishful Thinking” demonstrates how Fefer’s bulky, buzzing body-tube vibrations on tenor saxophone accelerate with Trane-like majesty to rumbling growls and triple-tongued multiphonics. Meanwhile the bassist walks steadily and the drummer clanks his drum rims. Also notable is “Appropriated Lands”, a stop-time alto saxophone showpiece with a repeated chorus, where timbres encompass gritty altissimo slurs and supple repeated note clusters. In contrast, Taylor’s cross sticking and rolls underlie a rhythm on “Essaouira” that seems to take in fralicher and Hora-like arrangements. Furthermore, the drummer’s ruffs, pops and cymbal splashes encourage Fefer’s splintering slurs, triple-tonguing and overblowing until bass thumps presage a head recap.
Overall, the reedist’s most relaxed playing comes on the title track. Again balanced by Taylor’s descriptive rolls, mallet driven taps and shaking cymbals, Fefer turns the theme inside out, wrenching every extension, overtone and variation from each note with pressurized intensity.
Pressurized intensity would appear to be Wilkinson’s favored mode of expression. In truth there are points during the CD’s 60 minutes, when reed slurs, cries and mastication appear inadequate for all he wants to express. At those occasions he begins vocalizing, either with echoing basso puffs or acute yelps. On “First Fall” for instance, these aren’t random grunts, but yodels, whoops, lip-bubbling and chanting that fit the narrative the way similar verbal outbursts from tribal musicians complement their playing. Nonetheless, with “First Fall” percolating for more than 32½ minutes and the other two tracks nearly 16 and almost 13 minutes respectively, it’s evident that the saxophonist’s productivity has no beginning and no end. Tracks appear to finish when he runs out or breath or stamina, not ideas.
On later tracks with Fell’s sprawling, percussive bass strokes and Hession’s drags strokes and shivering cymbals behind him, Wilkinson lets loose with throated reflux from the baritone saxophone that so quickly soars to screaming altissimo that you wonder if he has actually returned to the smaller sax. Even as “The Submission” ends with a cornucopia of reed-shredding harmonics and shrill split tones, it’s nearly certain that the defining climax of moderato and curvaceous line extensions comes from the alto.
With more than one-half hour devoted to “First Fall” however, the saxophonist as well as his cohorts have even more space in which to explore the variants of dissonant interaction. Backed by Fell’s unvarying rhythmic pulse and Hession’s drags, rebounds and door-banging smacks, Wilkinson keeps spinning new tones and timbres from his horns. When he isn’t vocally screaming multiphonics, the saxophonist builds up a collection of abstract lines, staccato vibrations and intense glossolalia as well as juddering bites and snorts. At points the drummer responds with cross sticking and drumstick scratches on a cymbal top as Fell scrubs spiccato textures. And, as elsewhere, there are sequences, almost always played on alto saxophone, where the reedist proves that, if so inclined, he can create a moderato, impressionistic interlude. Those intervals don’t last very long however, and shortly afterwards Wilkinson’s reed playing is off in the stratosphere again, packing enough ideas and reed timbres into his exposition that would give many other saxophonists material for a dozen forays. Finally as the rhythm section rolls along unperturbed and sympathetic, the saxophonist trades the split tones and flutters for slides and silences.
From both sides of the Atlantic ocean, trios use the freedom implicit in focused improvisation to create memorable CDs.
Track Listing: Eliyahu: 1. Song for Dyani 2. Wishful Thinking 3. Appropriated Lands 4. Eliyahu 5. Trued Right 6. A Taste for Love 7. Essaouira 8. City Life 9. Eliyahu (2)
Personnel: Eliyahu: Avram Fefer (alto and tenor saxophone); Eric Revis (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)
Track Listing: Two: 1 First Fall 2. The Submission 3. Second Fall
Personnel: Two: Alan Wilkinson (alto and baritone saxophones); Simon H. Fell (bass) and Paul Hession (drums)
April 26, 2012
Slam CD 325
Slam CD 324
Differences between a live and a studio session and the effect of adding and subtracting players from a core group are made obvious in these CDs, recorded on subsequent days in Oxford, England by a core trio and guests.
Oddly – and in contrast to the usual differences between in-person and in-studio gigs – Helios Suite is the stronger of the two CDs, buoyed by inventive playing within the structure of appropriately supple compositions. On the other hand, Holywell Session, the live date, is too diffuse, losing much of its power due to the shifting and substituting of different personnel.
Present on both discs are two British musicians, baritone saxophone and tarogato player George Haslam and bassist Steve Kershaw, joined by Italian violinist Stefano Pastor on his first professional visit to the United Kingdom. Genoa-based Pastor – whose experience encompasses work with symphony orchestras, Art Rock bands, singer-songwriters and improvisers as uncompromising as American pianist Borah Bergman – has complete control of his instrument. Veteran Haslam is probably one of the few players extant to have worked both with Swing entertainer Nat Gonella and austere Free Music guru Derek Bailey, not to mention representatives of most styles of improv in-between. Similarly versatile, Kershaw’s main focus is Stekpanna, his contemporary jazz group, with sidemen gigs ranging from backing Jamie Cullum and Stacey Kent on the pop-jazz side, to seconding uncompromising improvisers such as Lol Coxhill, and Howard Riley
Trouble is the three don’t get to play on their own on Holywell, with the added musicians creating less-than-outstanding matches. Partnered with Richard Leigh Harris, a British educator who is primarily a classical pianist, Pastor and Kershaw seem to be frozen into madrigal-like patterning with the low-key output uncomfortably resembling pop-chamber music. Although Pastor adds some glissandi bites, Harris’ crystalline note construction is as undemanding and expected as his Basie-like comping is later on the program.
Haslam and trumpeter/flugelhornist Harry Beckett, the Barbados-born veteran whose background ranges from Bebop blowing sessions to membership in the London Improvisers Orchestra, provide an antidote to these sweet, adagio sounds. But their unison and solo work too seems oddly Swing – as in the era –wedded. Loose enough, their contrapuntal contributions bring some rhythmic strength to the foreground. But despite Kershaw’s slap-bass work and some plunger trumpet sounds, the entire nocturne is far too polite. Elsewhere, Pastor apparently channels Stéphanne Grapelli in his solos, and one could swear the horns echo a chorus from “Strike Up The Band”. Later on, burbling snorts from the baritone and tremolo grace notes from the trumpet add little.
The situation rights itself during the five tracks which make up Helios however. Besides now having a compositional framework, suspicion is that the versatile drumming of Paul Hession from Leeds, adds the iron strength and vitality missing on the other disc. Beckett and Harris aren’t present either.
Almost from the first, with Hession popping, pumping and hand drumming, Kershaw has enough space to open up the tune with speedy walking and double-stopping. Pastor responds in kind with staccato moves, intersecting with and echoing Haslam’s reed barks, wails and flutter tones. On his own composition “Abingdon,” the fiddler plays Chet Baker to Haslam’s Gerry Mulligan to the extent that the tune could be a newly unearthed slice of 1950s West Coast Jazz. More importantly the two front-liners shift tremolo note clusters among themselves, at points playing in unison a few octaves apart.
An instant composition, the three-part title track is the CD’s highpoint, building up to an epiphany on “Epiphany”, the briefest of the three linked pieces, but the one most alive with Free Jazz expression. “Hemera”, the first section, relies a little too much on the intersection of jagged string swells and perambulating baritone saxophone tones. With bass pedal point and bounces from the drummer to anchor him, however, the fiddler is then able to unleash shrill spiccato, striated pulsations, and layers of vibrating, jagged timbres. More pointed still on the middle tune, Pastor’s improvising upticks into staccatissimo; screechy triple-stopping nicely contrasts with note spills from Haslam’s tarogato and saxophone. Eventually all textures reach a crescendo which is subsumed, explained and moderated in “Hespera”, the suite’s final movement.
Resonating with the wood-echoing impulses produced when Haslam and Pastor turn to percussion instruments, these patterns give shape to the penultimate chords which define “Hespera”, as Pastor’s flute-like peeps add additional calming coloration. Finally Kershaw’s steady thumps plus saxophone arpeggios provide a definitive and conclusive finale.
As the song title states: “What A Difference A Day Makes”. Helios Suite definitely merits your attention. Although judging from audience applause, those in attendance at the live date were satisfied, in comparison Holywell Session is an unfortunate misstep by accomplished musicians.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Holywell: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 6 7. Part 7
Personnel: Holywell: Harry Beckett (trumpet and flugelhorn); George Haslam (baritone saxophone and tarogato); Stefano Pastor (violin); Richard Leigh Harris (piano) and Steve Kershaw (bass)
Track Listing: Helios: 1. Marianao 2. The Helios Suite: Hemera 3. The Helios Suite: Epiphany 4. The Helios Suite: Hespera 5. Abingdon
Personnel: Helios: George Haslam (baritone saxophone, tarogato and percussion); Stefano Pastor (violin, percussion and flutes); Steve Kershaw (bass) and Paul Hession, (drums)
November 30, 2008
The Society of the Spectacle
Bruces Fingers BF 31
Chapters in what could be termed the parallel life of Simon H. Fell, these CDs expose the free improvisational side of the British bassist, whose usual renown is for partially notated compositions for massive orchestras plus electronically oriented music for strings and percussion.
BOGEYS recorded in 1991, and THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE captured nearly 12 years later, are significant wedges of instant composition, performed by two different trios. With Fells double bass the only constant, BOGEYS features his longtime playing partners, Alan Wilkinson on alto and baritone saxophones and wilkophone (sic) plus Paul Hession on drums. Described elsewhere as HWF, this band contrasts with the 10-year-old Badland trio that is filled out by alto saxophonist Simon Rose and percussionist Steve Noble. Coincidentally Noble recently recorded a trio CD with Wilkinson and veteran bassist Marcio Mattos.
Significant for the calibre of improvisation that exists on each disc, scrutinizing the two side by side is even more fascinating. It proves that during those dozen years Free Improvisation has changed immeasurably. Back in 1991, the HWF trio was pouring out maximal energy music conversant with the vocabulary of Free Jazz. By 2003, the catchphrase is minimalism, as the first part of the CDs program is rife with measured gestures. But, similarities exist as well. For while SOCIETYs first four tracks relate to microtonal New Music and near-silent, reductionism, the final four re-introduce dynamic go-for-broke soloing related to how bands improvised in the early 1990s.
Consisting of two half-hour-plus tracks and a seven minute interlude BOGEYS was originally recorded on a Walkman and released on cassette. Rehabilitated for CD, the trios sound is fine, although a few surreal moments occur when the boisterous crowd at this Huddersfield gig carries on conversations at the same volume as the improvisers, and when one punter decides that his her ? rhythmic clapping is the perfect accompaniment to trio interface that gets unexpectedly quiet.
Not that quiet is the first adjective you would associate with this disc. Comfortably slotted in the school of emotional glossolalia, Wilkinson never seems to neglect an opportunity to scream multiphonics through his horn; compound altissimo squeals with falsetto or phrase-stuttering; or triple-tongue any note in his immediate vicinity. Rumbling and banging on his kit, Hession who knows a thing or two about unbridled sax playing having recorded with Mick Beck and George Haslam in his time gives as good as he gets. Plus Fell can slap and vibrate his strings as well as any jazzbo.
If Wilkinson is the Free Jazz Frankenstein monster constructed out of equal parts of Albert Ayler and Peter Brötzmann and thats a compliment then Rose is both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Calmer, slower-paced and with the Onkyo-like patterns seemingly produced with minimal effort, the first figure lulls the listener and his band mates who respond with distracted accompaniment until transformation occurs at mid-point. Coarse Mr. Hyde is in ascendancy after that. Heavily-breathed multiphonics, frantic altissimo trills and split-tone exertion demand equal brawn from the other two. Nobles John Henry-like pounding on Snipe easily matches Hessions on the other CD.
Back in 1991, the saxophonists lung-scraping blows and stuttering reed pressure is expressed at pitches ranging from yakity-sax falsetto to pedal point bow resonation and at different tempos as well. On First Bogey for instance, half-way through, after it appears the trios output couldnt get any more forceful, this false climax is revealed for what it is, and the tempo picks up once again. Wilkinsons irregular vibrations are turned into double-tonguing and looping patterns, while Hession contributes ruffs and pops from his snares, and rattles and scratches from the cymbals, while Fell sounds col legno squeaks and shrill sul ponticello motions. Finally, when it seems as if his instrument isnt tough enough to express his mounting agitation, Wilkinson begins spewing verbal nonsense syllables. Combing forces, the other twos display of power chording gradually reduces the interface to moderato.
More of the same but longer Second Bogey finds the trio burying audience members out-of-tempo scattered clapping and guttural cat-calling with a few minutes of hocketing rooster-crowing cackles from the saxophonist and a double-stopping interlude of sul ponticello double bass lines. Interestingly enough, two-thirds of the way through, a calmer double-stopping interlude of slower-paced bass notes and lower-pitched growls from the saxophonist suggest what Badland would be involved with 15 years later.
This sound-and-silence predilection is showcased at the top of SPECTACLE. Here the warbles and tongue stops of Roses sax, mixed with woody echoes from Fells bass and irregular staccato pulses from Nobles kit, are as languid and unforced as WHFs timbres are intense. The key track is Nissa where all the splayed and singular individual patterns polyphonically expressed earlier on seems to fuse and harden. Having already emphasized pause and silences within extended improvisations, Rose withdraws to such an extent that he appears to be merely expelling whispered timbres underneath flanging cymbal whooshes from Noble and sul tasto sweeps from Fell.
While it may appear that Roses background in World Music, specifically Nigeria, Asian and South American, and Nobles experience with combos featuring pianist Alex Maguire and guitarist Derek Bailey may have caused this volte face from Energy Music, the band surprises in the first seconds of the next track, Society of the Spectacle (Part 1), where a press roll bombardment from Nobles kit and pressured bass slices can make you jump. Suddenly altissimo, Rose is honking and snorting with vibrating metal from inside the body tube, as Noble doubles his impulses with marimba-like reflecting pulses.
Reinforced and toughened vibrations characterize the remainder of the disc as Roses timbres sway and curve with squealing multiphonics, Fell swipes and pitchslides, and Noble not only exercises the regular parts of his kit, but strikes miniature bells for additional textures.
Fell fans, those who yearn for the glory days of Energy Music and those interested to see how Free Music has evolved in a decade-and-a-half will be attracted to these discs.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Badland: 1. Kittiwake 2. Elka 3. Society of the Spectacle (Part 2) 4. Nissa 5. Society of the Spectacle (Part 1) 6. Mia 7. Snipe 8. Reeds in the Western World
Personnel: Badland: Simon Rose (alto saxophone); Simon H. Fell (bass); Steve Noble (percussion)
Track Listing: Bogey: 1. First Bogey 2. The Assumption 3. Second Bogey
Personnel: Bogey: Alan Wilkinson (alto and baritone saxophones, wilkophone); Simon H. Fell (bass); Paul Hession (drums)
May 1, 2006
Meanwhile, back in Sheffield
The Ins and Outs
Free Improv merry-go-rounds, these CDs feature veteran players from the United Kingdom extending themselves in previously unrecorded trio formations.
Oversight and commitments to other groups are why, after a decade of existence, the fine Free Base trio debuts on record with THE INS AND OUTS. Conversely, MEANWHILE, BACK IN SHEFFIELD captures on disc a now-uncommon occurrence: the first live gig in a decade by that British citys best-known native improviser: guitarist Derek Bailey, now a Barcelona-resident. Hes joined by local Mick Beck on tenor saxophone, whistles and bassoon, and drummer Paul Hession from Leeds. Both men have played individually with Bailey, but never recorded with him in this formation.
Each player on the other CD has a similar intertwined BritImprov history. After a stint in jazz-rock drummer Steve Noble was involved in a few of Baileys Company Weeks and more recently played in bassist Simon Fells quintet. Fell, Hession and Free Bases alto and baritone saxophonist Alan Wilkinson form another longstanding Free Jazz trio. Before that, the ferocious reed-shredder was in Art Bart & Fargo with Hession and a member of Feetpacket with Beck.
Mario Mattos, who plays bass and electronics in Free Base, is as experienced a player on THE INS AND OUTS as Bailey is on the other date. The Brazilian-born bassist has worked with every other musician on both dates in some context or another, while Mattos other associations have ranges from pianist Chris Burns Ensemble to sessions with saxophonist George Haslam.
Despite this near incestuous relationship between the trio members, the final CDs are anything but interchangeable. Again, the divergence arises from the veteran members. Adding his solid bass work to the coarse textures spewed from Wilkinsons reeds and the rumble and punch of Nobles percussion, Mattos presence means that Free Bases CD leans towards take-no-prisoners Energy Music. With eight long pieces allowed to germinate during this 72-minute studio session each player aptly defines his territory.
Recorded live but with audience applause excised the barely 53 minute MEANWHILE, BACK IN SHEFFIELD reproduces the concert exactly as it evolved. Baileys hyper-distinctive guitar phrasing is such that while Beck sometimes screams and squeals through both horns, and Hession unleashes fierce cross-handed textures, the fretman guides the improvisations. Oh course, whether this happens through tacit musical agreement, the force of Baileys personality or the others deference to an elder is open to interpretation.
Showpiece track is After The Red Deer, the nearly-33-minute opening salvo. Beginning with bird-whistle chirps from Beck and understates flams from Hession, it gains its shape from Baileys distinctive strums and string swipes. Soon the saxophonists sparrow peeps swell to crow-like caws as he tops off the body tube with glottal punctuation and tongue-fluttering.
With the drummer limiting himself to nerve beats and wooden concussions, the guitarists irregular patterns, scraping pulsation and quaking reverb match Becks spacious tone expelling, finally diminishing to trilling obbligatos from the reedist and claw-hammer picking from the guitarist. Asserting himself, Bailey chromatically works his way across his strings and frets, goading Hession to follow suit with snare press rolls, cymbal slaps and drumstick-across-the-metal squeaks.
Becks response in the improvisations penultimate minutes is to bring out his bassoon, showcasing basso quivers, and side-slipping sonority. Diminishing his own contribution to a dewy mist of spiky notes, the guitarist presages the ending with highly rhythmic chording.
Both other, shorter instant compositions feature more of the same, with Bailey and Hession sticking to spanked and tapped single note textures. Meanwhile Beck consolidates his sound, at one point spraying a wailing melody with one horn as he simultaneously peeps penny-whistle decoration. As a maximalist, his solos often consumes the entire sonic space.
You might say the same about Wilkinsons harsh blowing on the other CD.
For instance the almost 13½-minutes of Absolute Xero [sic], finds him spewing out a series of irregular, nearly reed-melting pitch variations and multiphonic variations. As Noble pounds his drum tops and exercises the rivets on his pang cymbal, Mattos quickens his pace from slurred fingering to spiccato tones, eventually resorting to a combination of triple stops and string riffs. As animalistic cries fly from Wilkinsons horn, Noble proactively bangs his drum stick together as if they were castanets and smacks single tones from the cymbals and the wooden parts of his kit. Appearing to be burrowing ferret-like within the kit, this resolution coupled with the bassist stretching and scratching his lines sul tasto serves as the climax, with a simple reed timbre as the coda.
Tunes such as I Wak [sic] On (for John Lester) and Sortie unsurprisingly the final number show off the Free Jazz-oriented disparity between Free Bases conception and Bailey, Beck and Hessions model. The former begins with a single boppish whack from Noble and swamping bass runs from Mattos, which sets up distinctive sonorous coloring from Wilkinsons baritone. Initially favoring a legato approach to the larger horn, eventually Wilkinson turns to reed-biting in false registers and bell-muting stops. Measured panting grunts that seem to emanate from his horns bow rather than the mouthpiece, allows him to he produce two different reed textures and a satisfactory climax.
Rubato low-pitched horn obbligatos that despite extended timbres almost sound Mainstream characterize Sortie. Could the saxman have internalized Gerry Mulligans smoothness? Behind him Noble pops his toms and vibrates cymbal tops as Mattos quietly plucks his base. Then as the tonal centre shifts, the reed lines shatter, side-slip and smear. Sul ponticello sweeps and drum beats delivered with strength and passion are the responses of the other two. Conclusive penny whistle-like shrills from the saxophonist, a rare dip into electronic pulses from the bassist, and bravura floor tom ruffs and constant cymbal pounding combine for a concluding crescendo.
Many improvisers from the United Kingdom are interconnected through similar playing experiences. Yet these CDs prove that when it comes to free sounds different groups easily create textures as distinctive as the countrys topography.
Track Listing: Meanwhile: 1. After the Red Deer 2. Raining 3.Buckets
Personnel: Meanwhile: Mick Beck (tenor saxophone, bassoon and whistles); Derek Bailey (guitar); Paul Hession (drums)
Track Listing: Ins: 1. Trepid (09.14) 2. Sea Frett (05.5 3. Absolute Xero 4. Skzypce 5. Kissing the Shuttle 6. Soup Song 7. I Wak On (for John Lester) 8.Sortie
Personnel: Ins: Alan Wilkinson (alto and baritone saxophones); Mario Mattos (bass and electronics); Steve Noble (percussion)
December 5, 2005
SLAM CD 319
Proof that theres plenty of vigor left in jazzs customary horn-and-rhythm section combination, this Finnish-British quartet sets a new standard for advanced modern mainstream improvisation.
Five tracks of top-flight improvisation confirm that British baritone saxophonist George Haslam is one of the mainstays of his instrument; that drummer Paul Hession from the United Kingdom can work in any context; and that top-flight improvisers such as pianist Mikko Pasanen and bassist Jarmo Hiekkala can hold their own in fast company, even if most of their playing takes place in the Finnish city of Kuopio. This CD is a result of a gig featuring the Brits and Finns at that citys ANTI-Contemporary Arts Festival.
Now officially a senior citizen, Haslam is one of the best arguments against mandatory retirement. Someone who has really come into his own as an improviser over the past few years, he now mixes a supple Gerry Mulligan-like interface with a determined ferocity more closely allied with contemporary big hornists like Hamiet Bluiett. Furthermore, years spent investigating the intricacies of the taragato enable him to transfer the not-quite-European/not-quite-Asian exoticism of that Magyar reed into full-fledged jazz improvisation. It isnt used as a novelty however. Instead the taragatos distinctive timbres are judiciously interjected to provide additional colors, as would the sounds of a clarinet or a soprano saxophone.
Usually found in the company of atonal experimenters such as bassist Simon Fell and reedist Mick Beck, Hession proves on COOL MOON that hes just as comfortable manning the backdrop for less offbeat endeavors. Firmly in the modern mainstream, Pasanen is a two-handed pianist who slips into upfront tremolo excursions as easily as he unselfconsciously comps and advances the tunes with sympathetic voicing. As for bassist Hiekkala, who regularly plays with Estonian tenor saxophonist Lembit Saarsalu, his work is in-the-pocket throughout until he steps forward for technically inventive solos.
This same combination of technique and tonal freedom is brought to each of the instant compositions, with White Moon, the final, more-than-14-minute track, comprising of additional, advanced read hipper than neo-con head-solo-head action improvising. Here the energy level is raised through the drummers passionate flams, ruffs and cymbal splashing, and tremolo chording from the pianist that works up into a dense McCoy Tyner-like modal outlay. Midway through, the piece opens up to showcase Hessions hand drumming and percussion note grinding, as if hes crumbling newspaper between his hands. Pedal point slurs from Hasalm supply the undercurrent until these turn to snorts and smears, while presaging all this are scratchy sul ponticello sweeps from the bassist and rapid, yet somehow formalistic harmonies from the pianist.
Earlier on, Hiekkala has output flat-picked guitar-like textures to accompany Haslams taragato forays, which somehow manage to suggest Spanish inflections from the saxmans other interests. Hession makes his mark with buzzing ride cymbal scrapes, rim shots, press rolls and the ability to alter the rhythm so that its rapidity stimulates the music without upsetting the tempo.
COOL MOON proves that the lunar conditions in Kuopio were obviously anything but square. The memorable session confirms Haslams and Hessions talents and spreads the word about two Finns who should be better known.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Kuopio Moon 2. Cool Moon 3. Restless Moon 4. Whispering Moon 5. White Moon
Personnel: George Haslam (baritone saxophone, tarogato); Mikko Pasanen (piano); Jarmo Hiekkala (bass); Paul Hession (drums)
July 24, 2005
MILO FINE/MICK BECK/PAUL HESSION
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1164
An Anglo-American concordance, this CD celebrates a reciprocal idea exchange between three men who help nurture free improv scenes in their hometowns.
Its also a musical souvenir from an American abroad, in this case Minneapolis, Minn.s drummer/clarinetist Milo Fine, who works with two Englishmen -- Leeds-based drummer Paul Hession and Sheffield reedist Mick Beck -- as if they constituted a regular group, rather than participants in a second meeting. Fine played with the others at guitarist Derek Baileys Company Week in 1988. Miraculously on the tracks here, the three pick up the musical thread as if there was no 15-year hiatus.
Because of his location, the drummer/reedist is an old hand at instant sound transactions. At home in the Twin Cities with guitarist Steve Gnitka, hes welcomed guests ranging from French saxist/clarinetist André Jaume to multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee for improv sessions.
MOTION EJECTA is a bit different. Its one example of the 16 gigs he participated in England during a 6½-week period in 2003, he also traded licks with a clutch of Brit improvisers including Bailey, drummer Roger Turner and bassist Tony Wren. His interaction with Beck and Hession was particularly simpatico though, perhaps because he has worked out cooperative strategies for reeds and drums for the past 20-odd years. Hession has also worked with McPhee as well as such distinct personalities as bassist Simon H. Fell and baritone saxist George Haslam. Becks playing partners range from Bailey to Fell and way beyond.
Most breathtaking -- literally -- of the collaborations here is the more than 34-minute Point 1, though the strategies developed show up on the shorter tracks as well. Each man expresses his individual approach, but there are also times when not only isnt it clear whether its Fines or Becks reed playing or Hession or Fine using the drum set, but also as to which instrument a particular sound should be ascribed.
Elephant-trumpeting lines first arise from Becks tenor saxophone as bird-like chirruping obbligatos from Fines clarinet curve around it. Intense, Beck is soon biting off great hunks of double-stopping tones as Hession works his way around the rims and other portions of his kit with flams, bounces and rebounds and Fine twitters away in treetop high freak registers. Then Beck brings out his bassoon, and its droning, grumbling ejaculations push everything else out of the way. Able to double -- and triple -- tongue on a double reed, he creates dissonant textures you wouldnt associate with the usual orchestral instrument; at points it almost sounds like a pizzicato bass. Becks repetitive obbligato so energizes Fine, that he too spritzes Aylerian trills and cries that would be defined as ponticello if they came from strings.
Hessions -- and perhaps Fines -- cymbals set off a distant, understated whir as Beck sounds both his double reed and whistle in tandem, creating a primitive Rahsaan Roland Kirk-like depiction. Scooping notes from his body tube, he vibrates his lips and diaphragm, mating extreme flattement with half-yelled cries. A return to tenor for a duet with Hession is soon scotched as Fine adds his clarinet, so that the meshed reed textures sound as if they come from the bellows of an accordion.
Moving between legato smoothness, circular breathing and reed barks, the British reedist sets an almost impossibly high criterion for the American. But Fine soon introduces obtuse wiggling tones and offbeat smears to meet Becks ascending glottal tongue stops until the two reach a polyphonic harmony of broken octaves with the clarinet squeaking simian-like and the saxophone muzzily honking. Skirting stop time by a ligature length, the drummers polyrhythms bring them closer together. Unconventional as the other two in his playing, Hession spanks rim shots that sound like reed tongue slaps pushing both hornmen up and down the scale, to end with glottal stops.
Shorter -- a more than 17 minutes and an almost 5½-minute condensations of the first track -- the other two pieces extend and amplify the cooperation that developed among the three and are from another concert recorded two days later.
Perhaps this CD was a one-off meeting for a few gigs. But it captures exhilarating and extraordinary intercommunication.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Point 1* 2. Adelphi 1 3. Adelphi 2
Personnel: Milo Fine (Bb and Eb clarinets, drums*); Mick Beck, tenor saxophone (bassoon, voice, whistle); Paul Hession (drums)
November 15, 2004
SLAM CD 318
Mopomoso solos 2002
Solo, duo and group improvisations are the connective strands that knit together these two British CDs. Both showcase contemporary improv from musicians young and old, though THE MAHOUT comes with a wildcard -- New York-based pianist Borah Bergman.
Bergman, 77, who is older by far than any other participant -- British saxophonist Lol Coxhill, most elderly of the seven other musicians is six years his junior -- plays anything but than old age home jazz. As a matter of fact, the fire and intensity he brings to his two solos and three trios on THE MAHOUT almost overshadow the singular tinkering of most of the others. Individually, while each succeeds on his own terms, the pianists work still provides a dictionary definition of Energy Music.
Spurring on to greater heights George Haslam, 65, on baritone saxophone and tarogato and drummer Paul Hession, a callow youth of 48, Bergman makes the nearly 11-minute title track almost explode out of the box. With Bergman producing high frequency chording featuring supersonic runs, glissandos from both hands, Haslam smears out swirls and chirrups from both his horns, and Hession provides roughnready bounces and triplets.
Hession, who has backed Free Jazz saxophonists like Charles Wharf and Mick Beck, and Haslam who has traded reed licks with the likes of Coxhill and Evan Parker are obviously up to the Bergman challenge. Yet Bergman, whose fantasias are often able to cow reed partners as powerful as Parker and Oliver Lake, not to mention drummers like Hamid Drake and Andrew Cyrille often has the upper hands here -- and both of them are functioning like pistons throughout the disc. Breathing space is at a premium as the pianist works his way from top to bottom of the keyboard and scale at high velocity, with motifs and tremolos often fusing into a dense block of sound.
Almost as impressive is Zircon. But here Hessions press rolls and flams, Bergmans metronomic timekeeping and Haslams alternate renal snorts and double-tongued eastern tone suggests what Cecil Taylor, Sunny Murray would have sounded like if baritonist Hamiett Bliuett had joined them in a trio. Producing flutter tongued, individual tones from either instrument that ostensibly resemble a low-pitched fog horn and a high-pitched air raid siren, Haslam, who is as comfortable recording in mainstream settings, proves that his energy is unflagging. Bergman key clips and inscribes spinning, circular motions around the other two, though at points it appears that hes mirroring the reed lines.
Solo, Bergman brings the same flash to those tracks, but tempers it with suggestions of jazz history. Dusk is an emotional ballad taken at medium tempo, which includes a melancholy tinge you would associate with the title. Streams finds runs doubled, tripled or quadruped. Emphasizing the vibrations of almost every key, he escapes equal temperament by appending a bit of inverted boogie woogie to the solo and ends with a ragtime ticklers flourish.
Hessions solo track involves compressed snare and cymbal work and vibrating undertones, while Haslams skirt gloom by amplifying the grainy qualities of the taragoto playing it in unison with the baritones pitch vibratos.
Hession has no counterpart on MOPOMOSO SOLOS 2002 -- the odd concert name an abbreviation of Modernism, post-modernism, so what -- maybe you have to be British to appreciate this. However Coxhill is on hand to display his reed prowess and Chris Burn on piano and percussion displays his keyboard language.
Coxhills solo is fully in the animal mode with bird-like squealing twitters and toots and what sounds like the chirps of mice chasing one another through his body tube. Add to this whistling pitch vibrations, slipslipping, altissimo trills and double tongued cries and smears and his piece is as distinctive a piece of BritImprov as Bergmans is of American Energy Music.
So is Burns Traps. Evidentially featuring the pianist stopping the action as often as he plays it, he also scrapes up and down the speaking length of the strings, then swabs their surface to make them vibrate on their own -- and that sound is extended with pedal action. Encompassing smashes, scrapes and rubs, it often seems as if Burn is playing a capsized harp, not a piano. Additionally he seems to be loosening the tuning pins and pressure bars as he improvises, and using a sharp object or a small ball to bounce along the length of several strings to create more shaking sounds.
Guitarist John Russell and bassist John Edwards, both members of different Burn aggregations add the string element to MOPOMOSO missing on MAHOUT. Using an old dance band acoustic, better suited for rhythm guitar backing than the temperate fancies of a folkie, Russell creates a more than 14 minute manifestation of slurred fingering and downstroked plunking with the spiky parts of the notes exhibited. Segmenting his attack with pauses of up to 10 seconds, he often sounds like someone who is determined to play a traditional ballad his own way and goes off on his own harsh tangents when the steel strings wont cooperate. For a finale, he rasps out a folksy coda with his plectrum up against the bridge
Edwards balances col legno techniques with resonation from the other strings. Thrusting out augmented, squeaking door hinges tones and lower-pitched bowing, thumps and rumbles, at one point the bassist interrupts his collecting and releasing of the strings for a double-stopping walking portion -- then ends the piece with unison bowing that produces both cello-like and double bass tones.
Another addition to MOPOMOSO is veteran soundsinger Phil Minton, 63, who has performed with everyone present at one time. While his whirling, wiggling murmur and cries, not to mention throat retching are an acquired taste, he is one of the few so-called singers to produce simultaneous vocal split tones, one high-pitched like bird twitters and the other lower pitched like the braying of a large hound.
Quintet til the End of Time, the aptly named group track, submerges Mintons cries and murmurs into the general narrative. With warbles from Coxhill meeting wood-scraping arco exposition from Edwards, and steady strumming from Russell plus irregular piano patterns from Burn combining, Mintons omni-directional cries help solidify the idea of free improvisation to which all subscribe.
These CDs define improv from an American and a British perspective. Both deserve to be heard on both sides of the Atlantic.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Mahout: 1. The Mahout 2. M.E.W. 3. Streams 4. Ancient Stars 5. The Varmint (for Jack Elam) 6. Dusk 7. Zircon
Personnel: Mahout: George Haslam (baritone saxophone, tarogato); Borah Bergman (piano); Paul Hession (drums)
Track Listing: Mopomoso: 1. Brush With Gravity 2. Pufff 3. M 4. Woodcuts 5. Waiting for Lol 6. Speechless 7. Traps 8. Quintet til the End of Time
Personnel: Mopomoso: Lol Coxhill ([tracks 6, 8] soprano saxophone); Chris Burn ([tracks 7, 8] piano, percussion); John Russell ([tracks 1, 5, 8] guitar); John Edwards (tracks 4, 8] bass); Phil Minton ([tracks 2, 3, 5, 8] voice)
June 28, 2004
KOPINSKI & KONIKIEWICZ
SLAM CD 252
The three bs
fencing flatworm recordings ff019
Putting electric keyboards into a trio with reeds and drums can sometimes overbalance the sonority, so that it moves away from pure improv and closer to rhythmic simplicity. Because the gizmos are set up to hold and accentuate notes, it appears to be easier to create riffs, vamps and blends then investigate more cerebral experiments. This tendency can be further exacerbated if the keyboardists playing partners lean towards simpler syncopation as well.
ZONE K and THE THREE BS -- both recorded live -- show what can and cant be done in this format. The later is more thought provoking because the trio members choose the experimental over the popular every time. Not that, except for a couple of instances, that theres anything cheap or pandering with the first CD. However both impressionistic accompaniment and obstreperous rock rhythms are emphasized over unreserved improvisations.
In a way this shouldnt be a surprise. Two of the players --- alto and tenor saxophonist Jan Kopinski and drummer Steve Harris -- have been part of Nottingham, Englands almost quarter-century old Free/Funk/Punk Jazz quintet Pinski Zoo. The third, Polish keyboardist/pianist Wojtek Konikiewicz, who also composes in genres including orchestral, chamber, electronic and what he calls Progressive Jazz -- wasnt that Stan Kentons catchphrase?-- has toured on-and-off with Pinski Zoo since 1987.
The basic tension in Pinski Zoo has always been the conflict between Kopinskis impassioned, Coltranesque extemporizations on tenor saxophone and the basic rock pulse set out by Harris and others. Konikiewiczs presence seems to overweigh the equation. As one of Warsaws busiest and most versatile performers his dexterity in so many genres may it difficult to track down the inner musician.
On Troika, for instance, the thematic funk he produces from the keys comes complete with a heavy bass line, which when coupled with on-the-beat percussion bring to mind Georgie Fame at the Flamingo or Graham Bond at the Roundhouse. Later on, his wah-wah clavinet textures seem to have migrated from a 1970s Herbie Hancock date, along with Harris bounces and ruffs. It gets so that Kopinski on alto sax takes on a Dave Sanborn persona, with nothing to relieve the buttery-smooth R&B smudges but a few half-hearted reed screams.
Although Kopinski manages to stick to tenor, the penultimate and final numbers dont fare that much better. Both include an earsplitting buzz, which one would hope is a mixing board malfunction rather than the height of Polish electronica -- no joke, or offence intended -- with Harris accentuating every beat he can and Konikiewiczs oscillating keyboard thumps. Well-modulated themes and long-lined cadenzas from the saxman sound as if they were created in isolation, with the endproduct conjuring up a picture of John Coltrane in a studio with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer. The overall result is too rough to be radio friendly, but too smooth to be truly exciting.
Nadir is reached on Impresja XV, however, a solo feature for Konikiewicz. On acoustic grand piano his chameleon-like style is on full display. As flowery as its impressionistic, his strummed tremolos and extended arpeggios seem to change influences on almost every note, calling forth suggestions of Keith Jarrett [!], Art Tatum [!!], Frédéric Chopin [!!!], and Floyd Cramer [!!!!].
Thankfully the two first -- and longest -- tracks are much better. They may even save the disc for Kopinski fans. The saxman, whose allegiance appears to be with the modal Coltrane and earlier tenor men, spins out some smooth counterlines here, double timing in the lower register of the horn. Harris drumming is steadier, exhibiting a boppers reliance on cymbals, drum rolls and bomb dropping, and Konikiewiczs comping encompasses modal runs, steady vamps and chromatic fills.
Funk and pop seem to be the farthest thing from the minds and instruments of the all-British trio on THE THREE BS. For a start, while keyboardist Pat Thomas may have grounding in other styles, his major alliance is to FreeImprov in the company of practitioners such as drummer Tony Oxley, Swiss violist Charlotte Hug and the Norwegian-British co-op, No spaghetti edition. Another longtime improviser, drummer Paul Hession has been part of The Anglo-Argentine Jazz Quartet with saxophonist George Haslam, and in many of bassist Simon H. Fells projects. Reedist Mick Beck has worked with pianist Stephen Grew and Fell, playing both tenor saxophone and bassoon, both of which are on display here.
If theres an unfortunate aspect to this disc is that the applause is bluntly truncated at the end of each track. Who knows, though, it could have gone on for many minutes, since Beck, Hession and Thomas were in fine form on that night in Leeds.
Certainly Thomas skronks out sharp, amplified tones almost from the first second, quickly converting them into supersonic, Sun Ra-like outer space timbres. Meanwhile Beck squeezes out a protracted bassoon line that sounds as if its levitating him from the stage, and Hession uses bare sticks as well as toms and snares for rhythmic impetus. As the sonorous double reed blows resolutely it surmounts a steady drum roll, bell-like clinks from the cymbals and keyboard glisses. When Thomas output begins to resemble that of a No Wave guitarist, Hession adapts the sort of Post Rock beat that ZONE K aimed for and missed. The entire rave up ends with Beck honking away on his sax then mumbling through the mouthpiece.
Boracic lint finds Thomas tremolo bass line suggesting Jimmy Smiths fancy footwork on the organ pedals, while Hessions rock-solid beat meets a bassoon pedal point ostinato and reed solos in the cello range. Then on B arty, the colored air moving through the amplified bassoon sounds like a combination of racing car acceleration and a sitar with loosened strings. Sine wave pressure from the keyboard is interrupted by pre-recorded voices from a radio talk show, with other portions of the program popping in and out of the subsequent cacophony. A shimmering keyboard pulse then melds with crashing drumbeats until both are surmounted by jagged, offcentre tenor saxophone cries.
Finally the most versatility shows up on B party, where samples of Country-Pop tunes vie for aural supremacy with what could be the output from a penny whistle and a musette. Soon hollow drum sounds meet Beck seemingly playing Reveille, then constant runs and squeals give way to what appears to be the sounding of an unaccompanied Indonesian gong. Horn honks, ascending space ship shudders and what could be the fretting of a mechanized banjo end the piece.
Nearly 46 minutes of first-class improv, THE THREE BS is a session that should be sought out. It proves irrefutably that the mechanized weaknesses of the electrical keyboard can be overcome by the right people.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Zone: 1. Corner jam 2. Night to dream 3. Troika 4. Impresja XV 5. Trinity Meet 6. Pool Fool
Personnel: Zone: Jan Kopinski (alto and tenor saxophones); Wojtek Konikiewicz (piano, keyboard); Steve Harris (drums)
Track Listing: Three: 1. B hind 2. B patient 3. B party 4. B arty 5. Boracic lint 6. B ware of the ***
Personnel: Three: Mick Beck (tenor saxophone, bassoon); Pat Thomas (keyboards, samples); Paul Hession (percussion)
October 6, 2003
GEORGE HASLAM/PAUL HESSION
Pendle Hawk Carapace
SLAM CD 315
Freely improvised duo sessions, involving a reed player and a percussionist always seem to invoke comparisons with John Coltranes famous duets with Rashied Ali. That wont happen this time around.
Its not so much that these seven tunes are worked over by two men who have been associated for nearly two decades -- a much longer time than Trane knew Ali -- or even that George Haslam adds the sour sound of the wooden tarogato to his baritone saxophone improvisations here. Rather its that Trane and Ali really aimed for abstract space in their late 1960s duets. Yet the two Britons -- Yorkshire drummer Paul Hession joins Lancastrian Haslam here -- have such eclectic experience that melody implications always exist somewhere beneath the free sounds.
For instance on Jack Rafters -- all the titles relate to carpenters terms -- Haslams tarogato suggest new melodies almost as soon as he starts playing the tune. As he continues, the woodwind player, whose associates have ranged from the conventional -- trumpeters Arturo Sandoval and Valery Ponomarev -- to the more experimental -- trombonist Paul Rutherford and bassist Simon Fell -- for a time seems to playing obbligatos to his own output. Hell play one phrase brightly, then answer it with a dampened tone. Eventually he begins constructing circular notes, sometimes pushing the Hungarian woodwinds pitch higher, into soprano sax territory.
Meanwhile Hession, who has been part of The Sigur Band and Anglo-Argentine Jazz Quartet with Haslam, as well as often collaborating with Fell, whacks his sticks together for a reciprocal wooden tone in between ratamacues and flams. Overall, theres hardly a press roll that isnt complemented by a cymbal stroke, though he does drag his drumstick over the ride cymbal for maximum subtle reverberations. At the very end, Haslam forgets himself and gets into some Trane-like honking, but very shortly hes back to his unique tonalities influenced by experiences in Eastern Europe and South America.
Haslams main axe is the baritone and in his hands its output is pliable enough so that he doesnt have to depend on ocean floor tones to make his points. On Scantlings, for instance, mid-range lyrical sounds mix with trills that sometimes tonally work their way up to Arabic ney mimicry. Suggesting a different part of the African continent, Hession exhibits some supple hand drumming. Elsewhere Purlin, showcases Haslams tough, masculine baritone roar, advanced with short, powerful snorts. Sylvan legato melodies are played in tenor range, while a cappella passages that modulate up and down the scale and seem to refer to czardas and freylachs, come from the bottom keys. Astute cymbal shading and tom tom rolls that emphasize the wooden properties of his kit are Hessions rejoinder to all this.
A tarogato pioneer before it was adopted by other saxophonists like Peter Brötzmann, the reedist often relies on its grainy, not-quite-alto, and not-quite-tenor, timbre to leaven the baritones bellow. But at the same time, hes so comfortable with both that he appears to switch back and forth between the mini and the giant horn almost without taking a breath. He can do circular breathing on either of them if he wishes as well. Often he produces reverberating overtones to amplify his initial note placement.
For the time being, though, sticking to one at a time is the prudent course. His first recorded attempt to use both horns -- with the tarogato as the melody-maker and the baritone supplying the ostinato -- on Eaves End, the shortest track -- is more atonal sounding than he likely intended. Lets just say Rahsaan Roland Kirk hasnt been challenged yet.
Other than that, PENDLE HAWK CARAPACE, a pointed record of melodic dissonance, is probably best sampled in small doses. That way you can hear how two longtime associates handle and negate the arid air that sometimes overcome challenging duos.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Corbels 2. Purlin 3. Blockings at Apex 4. Scantlings 5. Noggings 6. Jack Rafters 7. Eaves end
Personnel: George Haslam (baritone saxophone and tarogato); Paul Hession (percussion)
September 15, 2003
HESSION, WHARF & FELL
Bruces Fingers BF 44-CD
Described as by the musicians involved as manic free jazz, IMPROVABILITY is the first recording in 10 years by the power trio of Charles Wharf on woodwinds, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Paul Hession.
Yet while it doesnt detract from the pile- driver authority of the session -- or the trio members -- by also asking: is it just like the old days? the response is what they probably wouldnt expect. Yes, not only does the sound compare favorably to other Fell- Hession trios like the one with saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, it also suggests the gut-wrenching eruptions of even earlier free jazz bands such as those led by saxophonists Albert Ayler, Frank Wright and Peter Brötzmann and the heyday of the New Thing.
Bringing that same heft to his solos on soprano and tenor saxophones and bass clarinet Wharf, whose association with Fell goes back to 1981, unquestionably makes his presence felt. But the bassist and drummer, who together and alone have faced off with such frenzied improvisers as Brötzmann, George Haslam and Paul Dunmall arent fazed in the least.
The only folks who make be shocked, though, are those who know Fell merely from his large compositional works or minimalist combos such as VHF. His playing and that of the others is as rip snorting here as it is restrained elsewhere.
A strong example of this occurs on Self portrait with burning cigarette, an instant composition like the rest of the material. Here Wharfs Aylerian honks and R&B style intensity vibrato are met by speed-of-light bowed bass reflections with its share of yelps and a deep ostinato midway between Jimmy Garrison and Ronnie Boykins. Hessions steady rumble and roll sometimes takes in Sunny Murray-like outright banging. Ultimately the whole confection of raw excitement dissipates in a final nephritic squeak from the tenor saxophonist.
Not that rawness is the end-all and be-all for the three. The interior of sight, for instance, begins with about one minute of restrained bare hands drum skin and cymbal undulation, succeeded by the definitely non-Western cast of a snake charmers plaint from Wharfs soprano sax. As the saxist moves into penny whistle territory, Hession introduces double stick manipulations and sounds as if hes playing a conga or doumbek. Fells quick shift from shrieking high pitches to resonant lower tones keeps the rhythm steady leading to a mini duet with Wharf irregular vibrato matching his percussive rumbling.
Then theres the more than 18 minute The angel of hearth and home which shows off Wharfs sideslipping bass clarinet approach. Quickly accelerating from proper BritImprov mode built around tiny gestures, hes soon sounding out a full-fledged theme from mid-range enlivened with the occasional chirp for emphasis. The rhythm sections shifting accents also give way to an approximation of walking bass from Fell, who braces the beat with guitar-like strokes. Bass clarinet twittering becomes more aviary as the tempo accelerates as Hessions press rolls and Fells unvarying basso pattern encourage Wharfs dissonant playing to such an extent that between his tiptop high and basement low notes it sounds as if two horns are playing at once. Eventually you have a mental picture of him that resembles those photos of John Coltrane bending from the waist and blowing, as Wharf squeezes constricted notes from his solar plexus and you wonder when and where it will all end. Where it does is when he shifts back to mid range tones so youll recognize the bass clarinet, before climaxing in repeated mystical squeals and painful sounding smears.
Is it just like the old days? Well, perhaps with a decade of varied musicianship internalized by all three, its actually better. Hession Wharf and Fell prove that theres still plenty of effective forceful music that can be produced in a Free Jazz setting sounding a horn, beating a drum and plucking a bass.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Between the clock and the bed 2. Enter, leave 3. The interior of sight 4. Self portrait with burning cigarette 5. The angel of hearth and home
Personnel: Charles Wharf (soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet); Simon H. Fell (bass); Paul Hession (drums)
March 10, 2003
Simon H. Fell
Composition No. 30.
Bruces Fingers BF 27
The compositions and performance of British bassist Simon H. Fell on this two-CD set may be the long-awaited physical flowering of Gunther Schullers and John Lewis ideas from the 1960s. Fell may also have taken those theories even further.
In the early 1960s, Schuller, a modern composer, French hornist and head of Bostons New England Conservatory; and Lewis, pianist and music director of the Modern Jazz Quartet; conceived of Third Stream music that would combine elements of musics first and second streams of classical music and jazz. They recorded a few albums and even put together a mixed jazz and classical ensemble called Orchestra USA.
Due to hostility from so-called serious musicians these experiments came to an abrupt end shortly afterwards. Faced with rocks hegemony, non-pop music was occupied with survival for the next 20 or so years. So it wasnt until composers like Anthony Braxton John Zorn and Muhal Richard Abrams on the American side and Barry Guy and Alexander von Schlippenbach at the European end started writing for larger ensembles that the Third Stream term again came into use.
More inter-genre contacts seemed to be possible in Europe, probably due to an interest in improvisation from younger musicians of both schools. But despite many attempts, the number of successful so-called Third Stream pieces remained small. At least that is until Fell came along. Although he would probably bristle at the Third Stream label, the bassist has for many years tried for, as he terms it, a blurring of distinctions between jazz, improvised and classical musics.
The more than two hours of studio-based assemblages that make up this session are his most exciting fusion yet. Not only do improvisers, a big band and a chamber ensemble interact, but considering that there are loud, speedy solos from at least three electric guitarists, elements of rock enter into the mix as well. Plus theres also a bit of tape manipulation and transmutation.
With 42 players involved at various times the listener really does need the CD booklet, where Fell outlines his musical philosophy and how some parts of the composition, which is also subtitled Compilation III, came together. Especially valuable, due to the combinations and recombinations involved, is the jewel box insert which serves as a sort of scorecard, noting by exact time and position on each track, which musician is involved in which improvisation. Some of the improvisations are completely free; others are based on graphic or verbal suggestions. Most of the remaining music is notated.
Notated and manipulated, it should be added. For while all the parts were recorded live, the sessions took place during a four-month period in 1998 with not everyone assembled in the same place at the same time. Thus there will be portions where a musician will be soloing over the pre-recorded sounds from another section of the suite. Probably the most memorable example of this comes on Part 3: Blues, the creation of which Fell directly relates to the influence of Charles Ives, Charles Mingus and John Cage. With written sections suggesting Mingus gospel-oriented tunes, the duo improvisations were constructed in a unique fashion. Tenor saxophonist Mick Beck performed his solo while listening to a recording of the orchestra rhythm section through headphones. Synchronously Paul Hession produces a percussion program in reaction to Becks improvisations, but deliberately without headphones, cant hear the rhythm section work to which the saxophonist is reacting.
Beck and Hession are merely two of Fells long time associates who add heft and highlights to the written composition. Another is contrabass clarinetist Charles Wharf. Often paired with a bassoonist and/or a contrabassoonist to fabricate a concrete-like bottom, when his tone isnt subterranean, it screeches from the unwieldy instruments highest register. Other standouts include drummer Mark Saunders, whose solo section in Part 4: Rhythm with brass and string backing, allows him to ranges all over his kit, sounding crash cymbals, hi-hat, snare rims and a wood block and getting a bongo-like tone from one of his attached drums.
Theres also vibist Orphry Robinson, who is usually found in less experimental contexts. On Construct 3, for instance he unveils some swinging mainstream style-bar vibrations which nicely contrast with the cymbal on drumstick screeching and irregular rhythms of both Hession and Sanders. But considering that Fell is noted as playing with both men at the same time you probably wonder which sounds are live and which are Memorex. Interlude, also featuring Robinson, is a subdued swinger whose vibes-and-bass lilt brings to mind Red Norvos trio with Mingus or George Shearings quintets. Fell writes, perhaps jokingly, that he wrote it by applying tone row to a chorale by J.S. Bach. Since Bachs work was also a frequent inspiration for the MJQs Lewis, maybe Third Stream connections assert themselves without the composer realizing it.
When guitarists Colin Medlock and Stefan Jaworzyn are given their heads, however, the results differ. In the former case screaming solos often resemble the most high-octane fuzztone creations of arena rock heroes like Eric Clapton and Alvin Lee. For the later, while his Jimi Hendrix-like firepower is put to good use, as in the compositions very first track, by the final number his frantic jazz-rock flat picking has been framed in a context of an orchestral free-jazz blowout, almost the way Larry Coryell was integrated into Jazz Composers Orchestra (JCO) pieces in 1968. Unlike the JCO piece though, all this happens in the background is one episode of pretty string and woodwind laden medieval sounding music is succeeded by frighteningly intense orchestral sounds that could easily have been the soundtrack for a Hollywood suspense film of the early 1950s.
Other times soloists will step out from the big band to play at various time -- in one trumpeters case -- bits reminiscent of mainstreamer Clark Terry, hard bopper Freddie Hubbard or impressionistic Kenny Wheeler, introducing either brassy fanfares or delicate half-valve trills depending on the section.
Fell who at various times also contributes a Cagean interlude on prepared piano and some eccentric New music-like harpsichord, doesnt lose his jazz bone fides either. Its his bass line that often shapes both the written and non-written parts of the suite, while on the Trio track his arco sweeps match the miscellaneous percussion soundings from Sanders and tenor saxophonist John Butchers phrase shifting and split tones.
With further notated and improvised techniques, including a synchronous tutti, variations on a chromatic scale, a six chord fanfare and many others in use during the sessions 125 minute playing time, musical examination and explanation could go on in a review three times this length.
However to fully understand the CDs, note another question Fell once asked in an interview. Why cant you have great jazz, great improvisation and great contemporary classical music all at the same time?
Why not indeed? He has certainly proven that the theorem is possible with this impressive session.
-- Ken Waxman
Gary Farr, Tony Rees-Roberts, Joanne Baker (trumpets); Paul Wright, Carol Jarvis, Matthew Harrison (trombones); Andrew Oliver (tuba); David Tollington, Tim Page (French horns); Nikki Dyer (piccolo, flute); Sam Koczy (oboe); Becky Smith (clarinet); Charles Wharf (contrabass clarinet); John Butcher(soprano, tenor saxophones); Carl Raven (soprano saxophones, clarinet); Simon Willescroft (alto saxophone); Hayley Cornick (alto saxophone, flute); Mick Beck, Kathy Hird (tenor saxophones); Alan Wilkinson (baritone saxophone); Jo Luckhurst (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet); Irene Lifke (violin); Mark Wastell, Matthew Wilkes, Kate Hurst (cellos); Justin Quinn (acoustic guitar); Stefan Jaworzyn, Colin Medlock, Damien Bowskill, Andrew Stewart (guitars); Rhodri Davies (harp); Thanea Stevens (dulcichord); Fardijah Freedman (harpsichord); Guy Avern (piano, bass guitar); James Cuthill (prepared piano); Opry Robinson (vibes); John Preston (bass);Simon H. Fell (bass, prepared piano, harpsichord); Paul Hession, Mark Sanders (drums)
January 13, 2003
Bruces Fingers BF 32
Climb into a time machine and travel back 1989 in Yorkshire, England when the weather was autumnal cool, but enough heat was being generated from an ad hoc collection of improvisers to incinerate a block of council flats.
Souvenir of Leeds first Termite Festival, this CD should demolish the idea that all British improv is hushed and effete as completely as termites devour wood. As a matter of fact, there are times while listening to the almost 49-minute disc, that it sounds as if the two saxophonists, one trombonist, bassist and drummer are hungrily chomping through the music the way soft bodied white ants wreck havoc on a houses structure.
Initially recorded on a Sony Pro Walkman cassette machine, the strength of the four pieces on this CD reissue is conspicuous enough to overcome any technical weaknesses, which would probably only perturb committed audiophiles. Additionally, the odd, numerical titles indicate how the running order of the original cassette-only release has been reordered on CD to return the tunes to chronological order.
Another reason TERMITE ONE is notable, is that it features two intersecting generations of British improvisers. Soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill and trombonist Paul Rutherford, were among the first generation of free players, associated with such mold-breakers as bassist Barry Guy, guitarist Derek Bailey and pianist/bandleader Chris McGregor. Much younger, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Paul Hession would soon go on to play together for a few years in a potent improvising trio. Fell is now involved with panoply of different groups and large ensembles as well as concentrating on composition; Hession has also been featured in solo drum recitals. Closer in age to the trombonist and soprano saxist, but a late starter, baritone saxophonist George Haslam played many times with Rutherford, as well as other first-generation musos such as saxophonist Evan Parker, as well as with Cuban, Argentinean and Eastern European jazzers.
Maneuvering their way through four lengthy instant compositions -- the shortest is a shade under 10 minutes -- go-for-broke improvisations from the five also evoke the intensity of 1960s Energy music. In fact, there are times when Haslams gamy baritone- saxophone expositions resemble the impassioned tenor saxophone work of Archie Shepp during that era. That is, except at one odd point, when the baritonist seems to be puffing out a version of the Woody Woodpecker song in the background.
With Haslam holding down the bottom end, theres enough space left on top for Coxhills soprano vibrato to wiggle its way through some vaguely Middle-Eastern sounding permutations. Rutherford gets somewhat of a showcase for some fleet slide work, plus double and triple tonguing at the beginning of Termite One Three, sharing the spotlight with some cross sticking and press rolls from Hession. Elsewhere, the organized cacophony accumulates, then divides and subdivides as the horns use a variety of vibratos, overblowing and trilling effects. At one point Coxhills whine blends with Rutherfords smears and spritzes, elsewhere it faces off against Haslams baritone rumble as motifs and counter motifs abound.
Fell, when he can be heard, confines himself to constant pizzicato plunking and some bow bashing on the strings, while the drummer uses the full extent of his powers to move things along.
In short, if you want to hear a one-off formation of northern instrumentalists at the height of their powers, performing spur-of-the-moment improvisations, then this CD will be for you.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Termite One One 2. Termite One Three 3.Termite One Four 4. Termite One Two
Personnel: Paul Rutherford (trombone); Lol Coxhill (soprano saxophone); George Haslam (baritone saxophone); Simon H. Fell (bass); Paul Hession (drums)
September 16, 2002