The Ames Room – Bird Dies (CF 231)
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver – Family Ties
Free Jazz has no geography or language as these two CDs of outstanding trio improvisation prove. Seemingly any musician(s) from anywhere can organize an exceptional session just as long as the spirit is there. But that’s the key caveat. For unless the performance includes an indefinable helping of inspiration and cooperation, the results is endless blowing.
The younger group of players who make up the Ames Group understand this and, perhaps pointedly don’t make free expression their only methods of expression. Paris-based alto saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet for instance, is not only is involved with electro-acoustic compositions and pieces for organ but he’s one-fifth of Hubbub, France’s most recognizable reductionist band. Confirming the geographic separation, The Ames Room’s other members are Australians who have expatriated to different parts of Europe. Nantes, France-based Will Guthrie, is a percussionist who moves between Rock, Electronica and experimental solo expression; Berlin resident, bassist Clayton Thomas is as likely be found as part of an experimental duo as a big band playing complex arrangements.
There’s no sign of that versatility on Bird Dies, which in essence is 46 minutes of unstoppable, balls-to-the-wall improvisation, with no explanation of whether the deceased bird in question is a fowl or Charlie Parker. Guionnet sticks the horn in his mouth at the beginning, and almost never stops stretching sequences of staccato segmented split tones, slurs, screams and siren-like squeaks throughout. Meanwhile Thomas keeps things together with resonating thumps while Guthrie matches the saxman’s extended glossolalia and tongue jujitsu with cross-sticking counterpoint expressed in ruffs, rolls and bounces.
Building his solos with pointillist intensity so that partials and extensions of individual notes are apparent along with the roots, Guionnet’s altissimo screams and basso honks are anything but out of control. Marking time with repeated phrasing and hooks, his output cunningly mingles with Thomas’ and Guthrie’s pressures and vibrations until the intermingled lines come to a satisfactory end. One would expect that “Bird” Parker would have been impressed with the trio members’ audacity, if not all their methods.
There are similar circumstances in place on Family Ties. But here the slightly older improvisers keep the free-form intensity going for almost 75½ -minutes, albeit among six tracks. Another dual country situation, in this case bassist Joe Morris and drummer Gerald Cleaver are Americans while saxophonist Ivo Perelman is Brazilian. Each has worked with a cross section of advanced stylists in the past, most prominently bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp.
Cleaver who straddles supposed contemporary and so-called avant-garde Jazz gigs most of the time uses blunt accents throughout; while Morris, equally proficient as a guitarist, has an expected tendency to mix arpeggiated licks with steadying string pops. As for Perelman, his supposed avant-gardism doesn’t preclude involvement in the song form at various junctures. Especially in this classic configuration of saxophone-bass-and-drums, his pacing and timbre intersections often reflect decisions Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins made in corresponding situations. Get an idea of this on “The Buffalo”, the only creature memorialized here.
In effect there are sections in “Love”, the album’s nearly 25-minute climatic showpiece that Perelman’s supposedly irregular reed variations take on lyrical inferences in the Stan Getz-Gerry Mulligan tradition. Bird may figure in too. Mid-range and moderato, Perelman’s sputtering textures are backing by Cleaver’s ratamacues. Soon afterwards though bugle-like spetrofluctuation, pressurized honks and repeated tongue slaps are the order of the day, with the saxophonist blowing several choruses through his mouthpiece alone. The drummer responds with shattering ruffs and cross patterning, while the bassist sprints up and down the strings to introduce the saxophonist`s tongue-stopping and shrilling. As a climax within a climax, Perelman eventually produces two streams of sounds; one which piles shrieks upon shrieks; the other accommodating and mid-range. The later connects to the pseudo-ballad which launched the sequence and appropriately completes it.
Throughout the rest of the session the three engage in more cat-and-mouse-like games and chases, with multiphonics as prominent as American songbook inferences and, in the saxophonist’s case, bitten-off tones and vamping cries that go beyond Rollins-like strategies without being offensive. Tessitura broadening to insinuate lyrical underpinning even lurks in a piece such as the title track. Although Perelman begins his improvisations on kazoo [!], there are still references to simpler pop melodies in the midst of the instrument’s nasal whines. When he switches back to tenor saxophone, his output is initially paced and mellow, until he deconstructs what melody there is with staccato snorts and bell-muting slurs. As Cleaver ruffs and rattles alongside Morris’ stentorian bumps, Perelman uses thick reed pressure to rappel from nephritic sound dislocation to grating altissimo tongue flutters before locking into a chromatic summation punctuated by guitar-like twangs and a concluding thump from the bassist.
Protracted or segmented explorations of the polyphonic limits of concentrated improvisations, both of these Brazilian-American and French-Australian trios offer uncompromising but satisfying CDs.