The cello is, like the bass clarinet, now something of a regular axe in the arsenal of creative music. Players like Fred Lonberg-Holm, Ernst Reijseger, Okkyung Lee, Glynis Lomon and Erik Friedlander’s extraordinary differences fill the palette. One can add New York-based cellist Daniel Levin to that mix.
Bacalhau (CF 195) is the second live recording of Levin’s quartet to be released on Clean Feed and finds the leader in conversation with trumpeter Nate Wooley, vibraphonist Matt Moran and bassist Peter Bitenc on nine pieces recorded at the 2009 Jazz ao Centro Festival in Coimbra, Portugal. Though the quartet might seem to operate on the side of ‘chamber improvisation’, such a judgment is quite far from the group’s reality, supported as it is by Bitenc’s meaty, solid pizzicato. Importantly, the quartet is an extraordinarily cooperative group – a band – and as a result, the leader is absent on one track. Though brief, this duo between Wooley and Moran (“Duo Nate and Matt”) serves to assert this unified singularity, presenting circularbreathed swaths and dashes of bowed lamella in a commingling of tones that both echo and result from electronic manipulation. Following is a quartet piece, “Bronx #3”, that sets Levin in an internal call-and-response supported by the bassist’s walk, soon joined by the crisp, sputtering fragment/mass of Wooley’s trumpet in a detailed, blustery fracas. Moran and Bitenc are cool counterpoint, measured motion and accent in relief to shouted and strung volleys. A slight holler enters into Levin’s unaccompanied opening to “Dock”, a bluesy stretch and gentle pluck anchoring this fragment before the lilting, simple theme enters and is followed by a river of mobiles from Moran’s vibes. A chunky repeating bass figure opens “P’s Jammes”, leading into postbop brass pirouettes and elongated arco snap. Metal, wood and string fold into one another and just as quickly disperse in recanted comments.
Soulstorm (CF 184) brings Levin together with tenorman Ivo Perelman and bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg on a two-disc set of trio improvisations. While the presence of heavy-hitting tenor might signal thoughts of a typical power trio, this threesome is decidedly different. The presence of Levin also speaks to Perelman’s history, for he’s also recorded doubling on cello. The set is divided into a studio and a live disc, with all pieces collectively improvised. What’s paramount in this set is the way in which Perelman and Levin work together. Rather than crisp exercises in contrast, they draw from a similar palette, long lines of burnished vocal tenor dovetailing with a fine, meaty drone and liquid crags. Perelman plays the tenor soft and thick, spry and swirling with material hue. Levin’s arms and bow match fingers and keys complementarily, his jousts a hum of declamatory gestures. Though it’s clearly a show for reed and cello, Zetterberg adds a constant foundational undercurrent; rather than matching wits with Perelman and Levin’s fluttering buzzsaws, he’s a quietly creative motor. With surges of raw emotion and humanist abstraction, Soulstorm presents a heady brew even in the sparsest moments.
Joe Morris / Nate Wooley – Tooth and Nail (CF 190)
Because trumpeter Nate Wooley has worked in methods that straddle a number of areas – including noise music, as well as free improvisation and jazz – one might expect this duo with Joe Morris (heard here on guitar) to lean heavily on the pillars of extremity. Morris, too, often embraces net-less abstraction as well as wry straightahead contexts. However, Tooth and Nail sticks very true to its character, however uniquethat is, of an acoustic guitar and trumpet duo.
The eight improvisations here are about as naked as one could hope for and yet still proffer a futuristvision of breathy dives, spittle-demarked kisses and taut cycles of metal and wood. In addition to voicings and intervals, Morris uses horizontal scrapes along the strings in condensed clusters. Alternately muted and bright flecks at either end of the instrument or detuned thwack all enter the picture. But the sounds’ origin remains clear and immediate, specifically connected to and drawn from guitar and trumpet. “Metronorth” finds Wooley, in a few short bars, moving from inverted pucker to stately cadenza, to leaps and flutters as Morris’ progressions seem to turn inward, condensing as much as they spur.
One can hear the history of the modern trumpet in Wooley’s playing – Miles, Freddie Hubbard, Wadada Leo Smith and the pure-sound circular breathing of Axel Dörner – but that’s not to say his playing is a pastiche, rather a beautifully interconnected statement in brass. The pair trade foreground and background, clambering folksy concentration supported by descending muted guffaws on “Steelhead” or violinlike free scrabble opposite thick, muscular clouds and churning multiphonics on “Forrest Grove”. Tooth and Nail sets up its own tradition while also looking to the past and contemporaries.
SKM (Gauci / Davis / Bisio) – Three (CF 189)
Stretching herself musically by playing with a variety of local bands, including her own, pianist Kris Davis reaches a pinnacle of sorts with this almost completely improvised outing, as part of a co-op trio, whose other members are as busy as she. Luckily bassist Michael Bisio and tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci have developed similarly simpatico interactions, often working as sidemen in each other’s groups. Still Three is different. Lacking the dominant beats a drummer would bring to the session, the trio take turns assaying the rhythm function, with the saxophonist’s harsh vibrations and unexpected chord substitutions as crucial as the bassist’s string slapping and pumping or the pianist’s jagged percussive patterns. Similarly, bravura technical skills mixed with fearless invention take the place of any expected chord progressions they would rely on in other situations. If weaknesses are exposed, it’s because at times the ad hoc structure prevents at least one of the trio from outputting more than token comping or obbligatos. This is apparent on a tune like the otherwise stellar “Groovin’ for the Hell of It”. Slyly subverting the title’s promise, rhythmic impetus is expressed through foot pedal weight and key banging that bring the piano’s lowest quadrant into play, plus tremolo vibrations and pressurized saxophone reed bites. Bisio appears MIA. However he makes up for this elsewhere, when contrasting dynamics are expressed through his step-by-step walking that often shadows jagged saxophone slurs or when his muscular bass slaps complement almost outrageously syncopated piano lines.
Confirming SKM’s roles as quasi-percussionists is the sardonic “Something from Nothing”. With Bisio’s rubato maneuvers making it appear as if he’s creating tabla-like echoes with his bass, Davis’ rough-edged chording involves the soundboard plus the keyboard, with the resulting kinetic tones sounding more metallic than acoustic. Add Gauci’s discursive and staccato reed bites and the end result here – and on most other tunes – is both multi-faceted and magisterial.