Avram Fefer Trio – Ritual (CF 145)
Tony Bevan/Chris Corsano/Dominic Lash – Monster Club (Foghorn)
Keune-Schneider-Krämer – No Comment (FMP)
Pedants who classify Free Music according to countries or areas of origin will likely be flummoxed by this trio of saxophone-bass-drums sessions from the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany. While each is striking, not one traffics in the clichés associated with regionally based sounds.
British improvisation, for instance, is often described as “insect music”, made up of miniscule, understated gestures and sounds. Monster Club – note the in-your-face title – is anything but that. Lead by reedist Tony Bevan, who has collaborated as much with pioneering Free Jazz drummer Sunny Murray as Free Music forefather guitarist Derek Bailey, the sounds on the CD’s four tracks are often rip-snorting and riotous. Part of this may be attributed to Bevan’s young associates. Oxford-based bassist Dominic Lash not only works regularly with lower-case improvisers such as violinist Angharad Davies, but also with outgoing North Americans like cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and percussionist Harris Eisenstadt. Uncompromising saxophonist Paul Flaherty is a frequent playing partner for drummer Chris Corsano, part of the Sunburned Hand of Man avant-rock band.
Unlike the expected bellicose and shrieking interface pigeonholers associate with German Free Jazz, the Keune-Schneider-Krämer trio seems to take part of its orientation from the shaded timbre-stretching of classic U.K. Free Music. Tellingly, two of the band members’ closest associates are British: saxophonist Stefan Keune with guitarist John Russell and bassist Hans Schneider with cornetist Mark Charig. The bassist was also affiliated with pianist Georg Gräwe, as was drummer Achim Krämer. No Comment isn’t insect music either, however. There are enough spicatto lines, split tone and snare drum strokes to add a touch of mammalian interplay to the sounds. But the resulting mercurial blasts are tempered with restraint.
So too is the music of American multi-reedman Avram Fefer, who has played and lived in both Europe and the U.S. A duo partner of pianist Bobby Few, Fefer’s helpmates here are bassist Eric Revis, who oddly enough works regularly with mainstream saxophonist Branford Marsalis; and drummer Chad Taylor, a member of the Chicago Underground bands who has played with people as varied as multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore, guitarist Marc Ribot and saxophonist Fred Anderson.
To be more descriptive, Monster Club ’s most forceful performance is the 38-minute “This is Murder”. Beginning with almost off-mike sul ponticello strokes from Lash and leveraging drum head recoils from Corsano, it expands as Bevan blasts Bronx cheers, unearthly werewolf-like wails and subterranean slurs from his bass saxophone, settling the chromatic action into an adagio tempo. After parrying sideswipes from the bassist, Bevan moves the tempo to andante with a series of snorts that precede wriggling split tones and reed-biting stops. Fortissimo his largo timbres operating in double counterpoint with Lash’s strummed arpeggios as Corsano multiples his pardiddles, pops and ratamacues. As his sheets of sounds unroll with multiphonic theme variations, the saxophonist’s guttural yowls resonate and reflect back onto themselves, at least until Lash recreates the original head.
None of the other tunes maintain this fortissimo intensity for such an extended period, but the cumulative effect of the three-part interface is staggering. However, among Corsano’s flams, rebounds and rolls, Lash’s boiling sprawls and plucks plus Bevan’s spectrofluction, glossolalia, reed bites and guttural pumps, a satisfying concurrence is attained. Apparent too is the band’s distinctive originality.
Similarly Fefer’s aural trio essay manages an attachment to both the pre- and the post-Free Jazz tradition. As a matter of fact, the top of “Club Foot”, featuring Fefer’s curvaceous soprano saxophone line and Taylor’s tambourine-enhanced strokes, sounds like a variant on “Night in Tunisia”. In between episodes of triple-tonguing timbral variations from the reed man, who could be playing a musette, Revis’ solid resonation and Taylor’s press rolls and bass drum smacks lead to a set of phraseology variations from Fefer than to a higher-pitched recap of the head.
This parallel strategy is apparent in other tines such as “Feb. 13th” and “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing” as each trio member adds something unique to the improvisations. The former for instance, with Fefer on tenor saxophone, approximates a balladic mode. Thick, connective bass lines plus cymbal slaps and rim shots confidentially frame the reedist’s honks as well as his double-and-triple tongued extensions and key pops.
“Sheep” on the other hand, features smoothly vibrated flutters from Fefer using a juicy, lyrical tone. Additional reed heft arises when he blows his alto and tenor saxophones simultaneously. Untangling the lines as he blows – with reed-biting forays into the altissimo range – Fefer builds to a climax of sharp, staccato notes that fade into Revis’ straight-ahead walking and Taylor’s back beat clip clops.
Although the German trio here functions as democratically as the other two, Krämer’s percussion forays give it a distinctive feel. Many times his mallet-on-metal resonations sound as if they’re reverberating from a gong or bell tree rather than from conventional cymbals.
Similarly, Schneider eschews walking about 90 per cent of the time, preferring to make his points with arched sul tasto lines, scrubbing sul ponticello extensions and double-stopped and double-pumped emphasis. A track like “Details” for example, depends on the bassist’s abrasive string-scrubbing and strongman-like swipes, as the drummer replicates a creaking door hinge and the saxophonist puffs out squeals, singular reed bites and spetrofluctuation.
“Rough Edges” – which provides a succinct description of most of the tracks on No Comment – finds Keune on baritone saxophone, mixing strident cries and bell-muted, chalumeau snorts. At times he could be playing duets with himself. Meanwhile Krämer accelerates his thwacks and snaps with flams, drags and ruffs, allowing the reedist free range to busy himself with Brötzmann-like slap-tonguing and overblowing.
Interconnected, the three sonically sum up their philosophy, with a noticeable level of concordance on “Rapid Movement”, the CD’s final track. Krämer pings his cymbals and pops his drum tops so they resemble conga drums; and Schneider vibrates tremolo sul tasto patterns. Meanwhile Keune’s vocalized overblowing reaches such a state of timbre-straining that the fear arises that he will push himself into squeaking solipsism. Just in the nick of time, Krämer’s rattling and rebounds bring the reedist back into the orbit of the other two’s lines and all reach a trembling, abrasive climax.
Geographic divisions are pushed to one side on these CDs, as each trio produces outstanding work.