Toronto’s high-priced real estate has meant tremendous growth for grass-roots, cash-strapped, experimental arts – ever further afield. Neighbouring Hamilton is becoming a hotbed for free improvisation, including recent events like the Something Else! Festival of Creative Music. Out of that activity has emerged this notable trio, comprised of veteran bassist David Lee, guitarist Chris Palmer, recently arrived from New Zealand, and saxophonist Connor Bennett.
The group’s distinct identity is apparent from the opening 12/3 pt. 1, as each member presents a distinct sonic identity. Bennett announces his presence with a stately and lyrical declaration on tenor saxophone; Palmer proposes a dissonant cluster on amplified guitar and Lee presents a powerful arco voice. As the three join loosely together, the music assumes an almost orchestral character, the result of each musician’s emphasis on richly traditional sonorities. That insistent sonic quality persists on the mysteriously beautiful West of Arkham, a kind of free ballad in which Bennett’s luminous soprano saxophone weaves through Palmer’s acoustic arpeggios and the resonant flow of Lee’s sonorous bass.
Alive to the charms of Celtic music and cool jazz ambiance, Lee/Palmer/Bennett also appreciates the liberty of full-blown free improvisation. Reed Breeding is particularly fascinating for its exploration of tonality less travelled, from its whistling bass harmonics and saxophone multiphonics to a brilliant passage of microtonal slide guitar. This is a subtly interactive chamber ensemble that spontaneously integrates novel tones and textures into fresh music.