Daily Archives: January 8, 2008

Bagatellen review by Derek Taylor

Stephen Gauci’s Basso Continuo – Nididhyasana (CF 101)

A no-drum zone by design, Stephen Gauci’s latest disc is still hardly devoid of percussive presence. Saxophone and trumpet take a voluntary backseat to dual basses on the opening piece, a counter-intuitive dynamic that recurs throughout the program. Michael Bisio and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten are both resourceful players with highly physical approaches. The interplay is high density and the tandem pizzicato mazes are at once daunting and immediately inviting, a crosshatch of thrums and percolations that prove conversational grist for the horns. Gauci uses Indian classical forms as an indirect source of inspiration in terms of composition titles and content.

“Nididhyasana” gains shape and weight over the expanse of a third of an hour. Its manifold tendrils undulate and intertwine at an accelerated pace, the bassists striking both the strings and the bodies of their instruments in a blend that is aggressively rhythmic. Bucking the historical positioning and decorum of their instruments, Gauci and Nate Wooley apply texture and color before returning to more note-based expression, the basses once again supplying a springy bulwark with which to bounce off of. Abruptly, it’s Gauci solo, his expressive trills and flutters soon replaced by the hooked needlepoint plucks of Bisio. Flaten’s arco takes over shortly thereafter, seesawing great tonal swathes that exude harmonic richness before diving into a cacophony of dissonance. A sustained collective drone signs the piece off with a meditative signature.

Occupying less than half the temporal space, “Dhriti” ramps up the intensity even further, culminating in a concentrated conflagration of pummeling string snaps and skirling horns. Gauci and Flaten monopolize the opening minutes of the sectional “Chitta Vilasa”, another excursion into extended and concentrated improvisation that turns attentions to several sub-groupings. Wooley and Bisio assert themselves roughly five minutes in for their own dialogue of pursed brass and scything classical-tinged bass. The full ensemble follows with Wooley generating a textured mosaic of abstract sounds on brass. The disc’s finale “Turyaga” clocks at a mere fraction of its predecessors but feels just as forceful. Continuing the streak first set by Gauci earlier trio outings, this new set establishes a propitious new context for his restless tenor in balancing intellect and muscle.

Bagatellen review by Derek Taylor

Tony Malaby / William Parker / Nasheet Waits – Tamarindo (CF 099)
Saxophonist Tony Malaby spent a significant portion of his formative years as a resident of Tucson, Arizona. That early history colors his new Clean Feed effort from the Latino Catholic iconography of the cover to the searchingly theistic mood of various pieces. The compositions pivot mainly on porous riffs: the sort of territory well-suited to his heavyweight partners, bassist William Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits. Parker defers often to muscular, if somewhat easily mappable, vamps and ostinatos. That preference sometimes strays toward the methodical, but there’s no denying the brawn and breadth of his delivery. A penchant for snapping slackened strings stridently against bridge is also in prevalent effect. His arco work is surprisingly raw and he rakes his bow across strings like a chipped straight razor hiccupping across a leather sharpening strap. It’s a bit disconcerting, particularly on the somber “Floral and Herbacious[sic]”, but sounds purely intentional. Waits approximates a hydroelectric dynamo, scaring up surging polyrhythms with a surety that recalls Elvin Jones.

Malaby, while receptive to the bridled energy, relinquishes little in terms of positioning or clout. His textured tenor play balances tenderness with authority. On the title piece the outcome is like a blending of Ayler and Jim Pepper, repeating trills soaring and falling atop a tumbling avalanche of rhythm. As galvanizing as his work is on the larger horn, it’s his incisive soprano that truly commands attention, particularly on the moody “Mariposa”. The clarity and liquidity of tone on “Mother’s Love” approximates that of a Native American flute as Parker plucks clipped harmonics and Waits ranges over his kit with whispering brushes. Parker’s switch to bow finds much of the grit and bite of his earlier sawing replaced with a disarming beauty. “Floating Head” carries the album out in a manner akin to how it opens with the three sprinting forward on another flexing vamp and syncopated beat.

Malaby continues to shoulder hits from certain circles that deem him a player prone to passivity. The music on this disc, while checkered with a few rough spots, refutes that contention summarily though it certainly helps having improv athletes of the caliber of Parker and Waits on the team.