01-WattaWestonCD002Dialogues in Two Places
Trevor Watts; Veryan Weston
Hi4Head Records HFH 010D (www.hi4headrecords.com)

Confirmation of the Guelph Jazz Festival’s increasing importance on the international scene is this significant 2-CD set by British saxophonist Trevor Watts and pianist Veryan Weston. Both men have helped define improvised music since the 1970s, and during a rare North American foray in 2011, recorded one CD in Guelph and the other in Toledo.
Nationalism aside, the two appear more assured north of the border, with the climax, Cardigan, a 32 minute intermezzo. Three months earlier in Ohio they distributed their aleatoric and dextrous efforts among six much shorter improvisations. Playing both soprano and alto saxophones, Watts’ tone is sequentially taut, peeping, staccato and agitated in Toledo, while Weston’s lines encompass both formal pianism and near-splintered tremolo dynamics to extend and pivot the performances. Toledo’s high point appears on Glenwood. Here a contrapuntal intersection displays the saxophonist’s mercurial skills at speedy and slow tempos while compressing tones for nuance and colour. Also featured is the pianist initially accelerating, then halving the accompaniment, while moving from high-intensity chording and pounding to edgy soundboard and string plinking patterns.
Practically an invention on its own, Cardigan dramatically conveys the veterans’ familiarity with each other’s sound strategies and their ability to parry and thrust in split second intervals. The initial variations find Weston’s kinetic pumps, clips and unexpected octave jumps prodding Watts to move from reed bites and snorts into broken octave, aviary-like tremolos as the two explore the tune in tandem. By the exposition’s midpoint, metronomic keyboard cascades embolden the saxman to unleash a variant of circular breathing which culminates in juddering bagpipe-resembling tremolos. Soon afterwards Weston’s playful variations in the piano’s bass clef sustain the rhythm as he splays sharp harmonies. Leading to the finale, further developments find Watts echoing and shaking grace notes to affiliate with the pianist’s now low frequency, slow-paced chording. By the end pinched oboe-like reed bites replace an ocean-wide vibrato as Weston’s meticulous keyboard framing leads to parallel diminuendo.
Before a short encore, the applause from the Guelph audience is almost as protracted as the length of some of the Toledo tracks.

01-Elizabeth-SheppardRewind (linus 270155) is Elizabeth Shepherd’s first CD devoted to standards, but they aren’t everybody’s standards; rather they’re a carefully if quirkily chosen personal selection, including French chanson (Pourqois tu vis), art song (Kurt Weill’s eerie Lonely House) and jazz tunes (from Lionel Hampton’s Midnight Sun to Bobby Hutcherson’s When You Are Near, the latter with Shepherd’s own lyrics). It’s a deeply involving album — there’s an insistent intimacy in Shepherd’s light, high voice and her subtle combination of the articulated and the withheld. The matching of voice to band is perfect — Shepherd herself plays various pianos, beatbox and “tuned mixing bowls and muted pestle” — with consistently deft arrangements. Highlights include Poinciana, with Reg Schwager’s lilting guitar accompaniment, and the soul jazz classic Sack of Woe with Andrew Downing’s plucked cello and Shepherd’s period Wurlitzer electric piano.

02-MacDonaldToronto saxophonist Kirk MacDonald is doing a fine job of maintaining the modern big band tradition. His last recording Deep Shadows was a 2012 JUNO nominee and he’s followed it with another performance by his Jazz Orchestra, Family Suite for Large Ensemble (Addo AJR013). Here trombonist Terry Promane has taken on the challenge of arranging MacDonald’s 2008 quartet album Family Suite for an 18-piece band, emphasizing brass lustre with five trumpets and four trombones. Promane successfully adopts MacDonald’s complex original lines to the weightier textures, burnishing them with greater emotional depth, and MacDonald the soloist is clearly inspired anew. The quality of the writing is emphasized by the performances of an all-star band that includes alto saxophonist P.J. Perry, guitarist Lorne Lofsky and trumpeter Kevin Turcotte.

03-DickensonPianist Brian Dickinson wears his influences on his track list, opening his Other Places (Addo AJR011) with a blazing and percussive Unreal McCoy and a harmonically complex Shorter Days, clear homages to Tyner and Wayne respectively. The CD might not win awards for originality, but it could for sheer drive, featuring the intense Boston tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi — a master of a later John Coltrane style in which rapid, convoluted phrases are driven by a tight vibrato and a slightly gravelly tone. The rhythm section of bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Steve Wallace is up to the task and the result is charging, inspired music. Dickinson’s Tagine demonstrates the pianist’s rhythmic invention, an expansive take on a North African theme.

04-HexentrioHexentrio (Intakt CD 205) presents Vancouver pianist Paul Plimley in outstanding international company, with English bassist Barry Guy and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli expanding the idea of the piano trio. The methodology is free improvisation but there’s no limit to the styles or technique of the music, a brilliant tapestry of 17 short pieces that moves from dramatic three way conversations — like the tumultuous Flo Vi Ru and Railways Rear Viewed in Magic Mirror that bracket the program — to dreamlike epiphanies and spontaneous chromatic rhapsodies. Plimley is an improviser of rare resourcefulness and in this company he is able to launch tonal systems at will, assured of empathetic and apt response. Niggli possesses an aggressive approach and an ability to suggest multiple rhythmic environments, while Barry Guy is simply the most articulate bassist a piano trio might have, embellishing the brilliant tradition launched by Scott La Faro with Bill Evans over 50 years ago.

05-Eric-NormandMore than 500 kilometres northeast of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, Rimouski might strike you as an unlikely spot for cutting edge free improvisation, but you wouldn’t be accounting for the resourcefulness of electric bassist Éric Normand whose quintet mixes Montreal visitors with Rimouski residents. Sur un Fil, released on the Italian label Setola Di Maiale (www.setoladimaiale.net), matches Jean Derome (on flute, alto saxophone and birdcall) and Michel F Côté (drums and feedback) with James Darling (cello) and Antoine Létourneau-Berger (vibes and cymbals). The mood is avant-garde chamber music, with subtle textures set up by Normand’s compositions expanded with a free hand by everyone in the band, from glittering vibraphone to sometimes squalling saxophone, creating a music that can be as elemental as Rimouski’s rocky shore or as abstract as a composition by Boulez.

06-Chris-BanksAlto saxophonist Brodie West has spent substantial time with the celebrated and whimsically independent founders of Amsterdam free jazz, studying with composer Misha Mengelberg and playing with drummer Han Bennink. West in turn has developed his own distinct approach. When West turns to standard forms, he does so with a lyrical directness reminiscent of Lee Konitz and free of the polish and rote learning that often compromise contemporary mainstream approaches. That approach is in high relief with the Chris Banks Trio on the unusual Softly as in a Morning Sunrise (S/R www.chrisbankstrio.blogspot.ca) as West, bassist Banks and pianist Tania Gill play standards and older jazz tunes from Jitterbug Waltz and Undecided to Soul Eyes. The absence of drums emphasizes an intimate and deliberate dialogue and the genuine spirit of improvisation.

07-Clutton-Michelli-WestAnother side of West is apparent on Compound Eyes (S/R www.cluttonmichelli-west.blogspot.ca) by the trio of Clutton/Michelli/West, with the emphasis on a minimalist style of improvisation that often matches West’s repeating whistles and vocal smears with bassist Rob Clutton’s pulsing, repeating figures and drummer Anthony Michelli’s spare accents and subtly insinuated grooves. It’s fresh and challenging work, and even here West manages to reference the tradition, inserting an attenuated phrase from What’s New? in the title track.

At the height of jazz’s popularity, during the Big Band era of the 1930s and 1940s, one of the most common images was of a resplendent clarinettist, instrument shining in the spotlight, taking a hot solo. Subsequent styles found the so-called licorice stick relegated to a poor cousin of the saxophone, with few reed players brave enough to keep the clarinet as a double, let alone concentrate on its unique timbres. However attacks on conventional sounds, coupled with an appreciation for unique instrumental textures starting in the 1960s, spurred a rediscovery of the wooden reed instrument. Right now there are probably more CDs extant featuring the clarinet than at any time since the heyday of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman.

01-ClarinetTrioSimilar in some way to what a jam session involving Goodman, Shaw and Herman would have entailed is The Clarinet Trio 4 (Leo Records CD LR 622 www.leorecords.com). Besides the obvious difference that the trio members are German, rather than American, additional factors characterize this trio of reed players as a 21st Century juggernaut not a 1930s revival band. For a start, each man plays a different member of the clarinet family: Jürgen Kupke, regular clarinet; Michael Thieke, clarinet plus alto clarinet; and Gebhard Ullmann, bass clarinet. Plus nearly all the tunes are Ullmann originals rather than standards. Unlike earlier reed players who depended on rhythm section accompaniment however, the 11 tracks on this CD feature nothing but clarinet timbres. Interludes which result from an arrangement like this are put into boldest relief on Collectives #13 #14 and Geringe Abweichungen von der Norm. The latter is carefully unrolled at adagio tempo, with balanced reed vibrations and understated motion as staccato slurs and pitch-sliding smears appear at the same time, finally melding into a tremolo narrative. In contrast, Collectives #13 #14 is rife with pinched notes from the straight clarinet, snarling quivers from the alto clarinet and inner-directed bass clarinet growls. Eventually a mellow interface from the higher pitched reeds surmounts these chirps and quacks as Ullmann continues to tongue slap and masticate tones. Other tunes such as Blaues Viertel and Waters explore variations in legato tone blending and burbling reverberations, as triple vibrations are showcased in broken octave, chromatic lines. The climatic triple reed definition is News No News however. As abrasive, tremolo lines from each reedist progressively align against one another the finale finds all ultimately diminishing to silence. Before that, three singular melodies have been cross-vibrated and intertwined, while staccato lines maintain each player’s individuality.

02-ClarinoCookbookAnother trio, but this one including string and brass instruments as well as reeds, is on Clarino Cookbook (Red Toucan RT 9345 www3.sympatico.ca/cactus.red). This time the CD matches the clarinet of Belgian Joachim Badenhorst with the trumpet of German Thomas Heberer, who also composed the dozen selections, plus German-French bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. Although the lineup is the same as if it were a combo of Goodman, trumpeter Harry James and bassist Artie Bernstein, Heberer’s graphic notation wouldn’t have been recognizable by those earlier jazzers, though they would have been impressed by the breadth of this trio’s technique. Encompassing a modicum of unanticipated tranquil passages, especially from muted trumpet and fluid clarinet lines, the fundamental object lies in revealing as many contrasting tones as they intersect. For instance a track such as Nomos, introduced by ringing double bass tones, develops new motifs as a busy trumpet limns the bouncing theme. Moderated with clarinet squeaks, the piece is cleanly concluded with bowed strings. More adventurous, Bogen is concerned with melding air bubbled through both horns’ body tubes with arco swipes from Niggenkemper, whose well-shaped notes later underscore Heberer’s brassy yelps and Badenhorst’s rhythmic tongue slaps. Even more dissonance is present on Erdbär with the bull fiddle barely audible.

04-ChansonIf Clarino Cookbook characterizes modern abstraction, then the 17 miniatures on Chansons d’amour (Émouvance émv 1034 www.emouvance.com) by French clarinettist/bass clarinettist Laurent Dehors and British pianist Matthew Bourne are the post-modern equivalent of jazz chamber music. Still the skills of both men include an undercurrent of dissonance. Take the familiar La Vie en Rose for instance. Dehors’ clarinet line consists of flutter-tonguing and split tone pauses before uncovering the melody defined in a series of glissandi roughened by tongue stops and breaths. This is followed by Triste, an impressionistic line dependent on harmonic balance between the pianist’s upwards moving glissandi and the reedist’s lyrical quivering. Overall, the CD includes some instances of hushed chamber music-style pacing while other themes are more barbed. The equilibrium of BDK theme is maintained as it unrolls at a clean clip, but by the final variant a Brubeck-like waltz rhythm played by Bourne is jockeying for space alongside Dehors’ strident reed shrills and snorts. Echoes of pedal point pacing from Dehors’ contrabass clarinet on Two are subtly undermined by piano clinks, while even the impressionism driven by the pianist’s key clusters and glittery plucks becomes hesitant and out of tempo on Á propos. Simple piano clusters characterize Three, yet Dehors completes the theme playing different variants simultaneously on two clarinets, one with wolf call ferocity, the other double tonguing. In fact, the CD’s defining moments may occur on Thrown. A mini suite in itself, which modulates from multi-level pumping impressionism to smooth lines at the end, the landscape includes chalumeau streaming tones from Dehors as well as reed bites, as Bourne’s patterns encompass key clicks and repetitive chording.

03-GordonGridnaSonic landscapes of another structure are audible on Vancouver-based plectrumist Gordon Grdina’s Her Eyes Illuminate (Songlines SGL-2407-1 www.songlines.com). Built on a jazz-like interpretation of lilting Arabic airs, Grdina, usually a guitarist, concentrates on oud playing, leading a ten-piece group which melds the traditional timbres of riq, ney and darbuka, with a strong bottom provided by electric bass and drums plus jazz-like solo interjections. Triplet runs from trumpeter JP Carter, contrapuntal duets between the split tones of tenor saxophonist Chris Kelley and the choked vibrations from Jesse Zubot’s violin, and liquid glissandi from François Houle’s clarinet are highpoints. One of Canada’s foremost woodwind players, Houle inventively creates a place for his Europeanized reed within this Middle Eastern showcase as he does in improvised, electronic and notated music contexts. Besides connective obbligatos and descriptive squeaks on other tracks, his most distinctive contribution is on the Egyptian/Druze composition Laktob Aourak al Chagar. Buoyed by the timed drumming tempo and aggressive string strumming, Houle bends his pitches so that his horn’s moderato line takes on a strident sturdiness, then as the percussion-pushed theme descends, he joins with the tenor saxophonist for a frenetic duet and finale.

Skilfully manipulating the single reed instrument’s sonic qualities, Houle, Badenhorst, Dehors and The Clarinet Trio validate the clarinet’s adaptability as a vehicle for contemporary improvisation.

01-Barbra-LicaThat’s What I Do
Barbra Lica
Triplet TR-1016-2

“She has a voice that would scarcely reach the second storey of a doll’s house” is what the New Yorker music critic Whitney Balliet once wrote about the jazz singer, Blossom Dearie. Anyone who, like me, was a fan of the 60s icon will find the comparison inescapable when listening to Barbara Lica’s debut CD That’s What I Do. And it’s not just the light, girlish vocal quality that invites comparison but also her ability to deliver a song with clarity, wit and deftness. Perennially upbeat, all the songs on That’s What I Do have a sheen of positivity even when delving into what could be dark topics, like being a starving artist, as she does on her own composition Scarlett O’Hara. Many of the strongest songs on the disc — and the least jazzy — are the originals, which Lica wrote mostly with her partner and guitar player Colin Story. Bass player Paul Novotny also contributes much as producer and arranger, injecting new, sophisticated life into the bossa nova standard Quiet Nights and a fun Parisian jazz-meets-reggae feel to the Billy Joel pop hit Vienna. Lica does a lovely job on the older standards like P.S. I Love You and Young At Heart, which totally suit her style. The affection she obviously has for these songs is infectious and will put a smile on any listener’s face.

02-ShearingGeorge Shearing At Home
George Shearing; Don Thompson
Jazzknight Records 001

Just a few jazz musicians have become household names while managing to retain their artistic integrity. Dave Brubeck, largely due to Take Five and Duke Ellington aided by Satin Doll reached that level of recognition, as did Mr. Shearing helped along by his Lullaby Of Birdland — but although each of these three pianists reaped some reward from the success of having a composition recognised by anyone interested in popular music, they remained true to their ideals.

I’ve seen George Shearing many times over the years and he always managed to bring a certain intimacy to his performance whether it was in a small club or a large concert hall. Well, this CD has to be the ultimate in intimacy in that it was recorded in his own living room. With him is his close friend and musical partner, Don Thompson Together they have created a little gem.

From the opening bars of I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, played at a lovely loping tempo, you know that you are in for a musical treat. There are 14 selections on the album ranging from ten superior standards to a Don Thompson original, Ghoti via The Skye Boat Song and a couple of bebop lines by Charlie Parker and Lee Konitz.

An interesting point for me is that six of the numbers come in around the three minute mark, a pleasing reminder of the days of 78s when you had to tell your story within a limited time frame — lovely musical stories these two masters spin.

Highly recommended and well worth adding to your collection.

01-AppleyardVibraphonist Peter Appleyard played a 1974 Carnegie Hall date with Benny Goodman and thought the line-up, a one-time group, was extraordinary. Scheduled to play at Ontario Place the next night, he somehow managed to bring most of the band with him. A late-night recording session resulted in The Lost Sessions 1974 (Linus 270135). It’s the incarnation of swing, some of the very best musicians playing a shared repertoire of standards with sublime warmth and grace. An opening Ellington Medley — with solos in turn by Appleyard, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, cornetist Bobby Hackett, pianist Hank Jones and trombonist Urbie Green — sets a very high standard, each musician clearly delighted by the challenge of matching the others. As good as the solos are (Hackett’s legato phrasing is stunning), it’s the collective spirit, fed constantly by drummer Mel Lewis and bassist Slam Stewart, that’s most memorable.

02-clusterfunkThe Shuffle Demons long ago demonstrated that modern jazz could be both fun and popular, chanting songs about Toronto’s Spadina bus and unruly cockroaches over R&B rhythms and manic post-bop saxophone solos, then making witty videos about them. The band is back with ClusterFunk (Linus 270152), channelling Charles Mingus and Frank Zappa on their first CD of new material in 17 years. The instrumentals here are consistently good, like alto saxophonist Richard Underhill’s Earth Song and drummer Stich Wynston’s Fukushima. The songs are more uneven — ranging from clever post-modern laments about big box stores and sifting through trash for refunds to All about the Hang, which, perhaps intentionally, goes on too long. The riffing power of the saxophones — Richard Underhill, Kelly Jefferson and Perry White — and the high funk quotient of Wynston and bassist George Koller generally keep things lively.

03-universeofjohnlennonGuitarist Michael Occhipinti has a knack for expanding the repertoire available to jazz, having previously explored the work of folksinger Bruce Cockburn and the songs of his own Sicilian heritage. With the group Shine On (regulars from his own bands and a collection of Toronto singers) he takes on The Universe of John Lennon (True North TND566), exploring songs as immediate as Don’t Let Me Down and as elusive as Across the Universe. There’s a slightly dream-like, inevitably nostalgic aura here, but a few vocals manage to convey Lennon’s darker facets, like Elizabeth Shepherd on Working Class Hero and Denzal Sinclaire on Girl. Occhipinti’s arrangements create effective counter-melodies and fresh rhythms and there are fine solos by trumpeter Kevin Turcotte as well as the leader.

04-Quatour-Jazz-Libre05-EffugitLe Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec, formed in 1967, was a signal event in Canadian jazz history, its members connecting the incendiary free jazz style then associated with American Black Nationalism to an incipient Québecois nationalism. 1973 (Tenzier TNZR051 www.tnzr.com) is a previously unissued studio session from well into the band’s career, now available as a limited issue LP. The music largely eschews composed heads for collective improvisation, consistently demonstrating the kind of committed intuitive work achieved through the long and close interaction of the quartet: saxophonist and flutist Jean Préfontaine; trumpeter Yves Charbonneau; drummer Jean-Guy Poirier; and bassist Yves Bouliane. Each of the four tracks has a distinct mood and texture, ranging through urgent, tumultuous musical riot (Sans Titre) to dirge (Une minute de silence) to exotic soundscape (Studio 13, le 13 mai 1973) to detailed and earnest conversation.Maïkotron Unit is an equally distinctive Québecois band, but with a 30-year history. The trio is distinguished by two qualities: they’re consummate musicians — the rhythm section of bassist/ cellist Pierre Côté and drummer Michel Lambert can swing with an ease matched by few, while reed player Michel Côté is both a master of traditional jazz forms and a clarinettist with great facility. They’re also wildly inventive: “maïkotron” refers to a family of bizarre home made instruments on which the two Michels double, compounds of brass and reed parts that are devised for both extraordinarily wide ranges and microtones — sounding like quarter-tone bassoons, euphoniums and tubas. On Effugit (Rant 1243 www.rantrecords.com), there are 16 tracks in 56 minutes and you never know what you’re going to get — the kinetic swing of Liberum, the classical grace of Sawah, the floating tenor saxophone of Effugit or the mad maïkotron adventure of Sous la Canopée — except that it will be different, usually brief and as well-played as it is imaginative.

06-quatourcreoleSylvain Leroux — a former Montrealer now based in New York — has studied African music extensively and supplements his standard flute and alto saxophone with an African lute and flutes. On Quatuor Créole (Engine e046), he explores a host of exotic rhythms from Africa and the Caribbean as well as chanting and playing flute simultaneously on pieces like Notis. The emphasis is on dense rhythmic grooves here, with Leroux more likely to play lute than flute. The veteran vibraphonist/pianist Karl Berger, Leroux’s former teacher, also solos at length, clearly celebrating the percolating rhythms created by Haitian percussionist Sergo Décius and bassist Matt Pavolka. There’s plenty of world music tonal color here and the grooves are complex and liberating. Leroux also touches on an earlier influence, playing alto saxophone with a raw lyricism on Monk in Paradise. 

When New York’s now justly famous Vision Festival first took place in 1996 committed jazz fans greeted the event as if they were witnessing a full-fledged musical resurrection. So many advanced players of unbridled free form and experimental sounds were involved that the annual festival soon became a crowded week-long summer happening. Ironically — which was one reason for the Fest’s popularity — these probing sounds and its players were supposed to have vanished after the revolutionary 1960s, superseded first by jazz-rock pounders’ simple melodies and then jazz’s young lions who aped the sounds and sartorial choices of the 1950s — both of which had major record label support. Still, asbassist/composer/bandleader William Parker’s Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976–1987 (NoBusiness NBCD 42-47 www.nobusinessrecords.com) aptly demonstrates, experimental sounds never vanished; they just went underground. As the 24 often lengthy tracks that make up this 6-CD set of hitherto unreleased material substantiates in its breadth of performances, sonically questing players were improvising and composing during those so-called lost years. But it took the founding of the Vision Festival by Parker and his wife, dancer/choreographer Patricia Nicholson, to provide the proper medium for this work. Major stylists such as saxophonists Charles Gayle and David S. Ware, vocalist Ellen Christi and trumpeter Roy Campbell, all of whom are represented in the set, would go on to mentor a multiplying groundswell of younger rule stretchers and future Vision Fest participants. Also, despite being professionally recorded, the conservative climate of the times, plus the cost of producing and distributing LPs, left the tapes used for these CDs stacked in performers’ apartments. Now the belated release of Centeringfills in a blank in jazz history, equivalent to what coming across a cache of unreleased John Cage or Morton Feldman recordings would do. Included in the package is an attractively designed 66-page paperback book with vintage photos, posters and sketches along with essays discussing the background of the sessions, the musicians’ experiences and the New York scene.

From a historical perspective the most valuable artifacts are those which feature Parker playing alongside saxophonists who are now major influences in the international avant garde. From 1980 the bassist and alto saxophonist Daniel Carter are involved in musical discussions which make up for their lack of nuance with brilliant and mercurial playing, eviscerating every timbre and tone that could be sourced from their instruments. As Parker’s chunky rhythms hold the bottom while simultaneously rubbing and stopping strings to produce unique interjections, Carter ranges all over his horn. On Thulin, for instance, multiphonic split tones, triple tonguing, barks and bites are just the beginning of the saxophonist’s agitated interface. Working his solo into a fever pitch of altissimo cries and freak notes, he often sounds as if he’s playing two reed instruments. Eventually Parker’s juddering percussiveness grounds the track, angling the two towards a finale, but not before an extended a cappella passage by the bassist, where his multi-string sinewy strokes expose timbres that could be created by a string quartet. Contrast that with the beefy pedal point Parker uses on the two 1987 tracks with tenor saxophonist Gayle. After the reedist’s almost continuous overblowing exposes snarling altissimo or nephritic guttural tones, Parker asserts himself on Entrusted Spirit with tremolo strums and slaps which echo sympathetically alongside Gayle’s expansive multiphonics. Finally the saxman’s pressurized snarls and mercurial split tones are muted to an affiliated moderato tone by smooth pizzicato lines from Parker, bringing wood tapping and top-of-range angling into the mix.

Equally instructive, tenor saxophone Ware and Parker, who would become one half of Ware’s celebrated quartet in the 1990s, recorded with drummer Denis Charles in 1980 as the Centering Dance Music Ensemble. Unlike earlier Parker compositions on this set performed by string or vocal-based ensembles to back up Nicholson’s choreography that seem overly notated and more distant, the Ware-Parker-Charles creations are vibrant free jazz that may have caused repetitive strain injuries among dance company members. Highpoint is the inclusive and contrapuntal Tapestry. Here the saxophonist’s juddering smears and expansive reed vibrations, Parker’s focused slaps and Charles’ bass drum thumps are individually showcased then smartly combined into a tremolo vamp that descends into satisfying cohesion. Edifyingly demonstrating that the so-called avant-gardists celebrated the tradition is One Day Understanding. With a dirge-like middle section where Ware directly quotes an Albert Ayler head, the exposition and conclusion allow the saxman full range for glossolalia, spinning split tones and fervid overblowing effectively honouring saxophone titans like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman by inference. Parker’s sputtering spiccato slices relate to Henry Grimes’ and Jimmy Garrison’s liberation of the bass role; while Charles, whose military-style rebounds and hard backbeat helped define free jazz in the late 1950s, just plays himself.

02-William-Parker-CenterbookEven more germane to contemporary experimenters who frequently amalgamate into large-scale improvisational ensembles are two other Parker-led groups. Both 1979’s eight-member Big Moon Ensemble and 1984’s 13-person Centering Big Band are links between Coleman’s Double Quartet and Coltrane’s Ascension band and today. Vaulting between inchoate and inspired, the Big Moon tracks are polyrhythmic, polytonal and polyharmonic with the instrumental tessitura stretched to make room for thundering solos from the likes of Carter and Campbell plus trumpeter Arthur Williams and altoist Jameel Moondoc. On tunes such as Hiroshima Part Two and Dedication to Kenneth Patchen the cumulative effect of the multi-colored free-form cascading is intensified by aboriginal war whoops and unbalanced screams from the band members as they play. Tremolo triplets from Campbell meet Williams’ capillary flutter tonguing on Patchen, as Moondoc’s juddering split tones contrast with Carter’s leaping glossolalia. With Charles and Rashid Bakr both thrashing percussion, Parker and fellow bassist Jay Oliver stroke manfully to finally downshift the collective cascading, only to have it revive with increased ferocity on Hiroshima. Stacked horn parts encompassing stop-time screaming and pressurized vibratos are strung out during this nearly 50-minute piece as each musician seems to be trying to outdo the other in ferocity. Instructively the bassist’s later experiments with world music improv are adumbrated in a protracted sequence when his string strumming and the percussion work sound as if they’re emanating from a koto and a taiko drum.

There’s no mistaking the jazz inflections on the five big band selections however. But their modernity is apparent in the resourceful balance among intense riffs from the five saxophones, Parker’s time-keeping plus percussionist Zen Matsura’s cymbal clanks and press rolls as well as stacked and cascading vocal interchange from Christi and fellow vocalist Lisa Sokolov. Intense, heraldic triplets from trumpeters Campbell and Raphe Malik add to the churning excitement of tunes like Munyaovi, as first the snorting reeds then the brass section’s triplet expansion match the vocalists in staccato invention. The overall effect isn’t unlike Count Basie’s band at full force playing a swing riff. Space is furthermore made throughout for comforting trombone slurs, twanging rhythmic sequences from Parker and, on Tototo, an alluring balladic line from Moondoc. That piece climaxes with a polyphonic entanglement of the drummer’s harsh ruffs and flams, screaming penny whistle-style brass shrills and guttural baritone sax honks, completed by a slithery sax line that coalesces with harmonized voices.

The big band selections were taped at the 1984 Kool Jazz Festival, one of Parker’s rare high-profile gigs. It may have taken another dozen years to organize the Vision Festival and find the multiplicity of gigs and recordings Parker and his associates now participate in, but this momentous box set confirms that all along experimental music’s foundation was being cultivated slightly out of the public eye.

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