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Reviews of Recent Recordings


Tapio & Tuomi Duo
Karkia Mistika Records Kar-Mi 061

Tapio & Tuomi Duo is the longstanding Finnish partnership of reed player Jorma Tapio (best known, though a genuinely underknown master, as the fire-breathing tenor saxophonist in the band Sound & Fury since its founding by the late Edward Vessala in 1985) and percussionist Janne Tuomi, who has produced a string of solo recordings. If there’s an elemental quality to every reed/percussion duo – a conspicuous avoidance of harmony – that links it to the shamanic, whether incantatory or meditative, that focus is stronger still here. As well as his tenor, Tapio brings his bass clarinet and an assortment of flutes and percussion, while Toomi plays drums, vibes and an array of percussion; as well, both vocalize.

The music is constantly shifting, yet the overall effect suggests profound introspection rather than mere variety. After the briefest, wispy, wooden flute incantation, “Manifestation” reveals the almost infernal power of Tapio’s tenor, blazing its mysterious path through the free rhythmic patterns generated from Tuomi’s drum kit. It’s a key combination of instruments that appears at different points in the program, each time seeming to grow in power. There’s a rendering of a 1955 French song called “un jour, tu verras,” originally written by Georges Van Parys and recorded by Marcel Mouloudji, the ballad taking on the sound of late-Coltrane. The intensity is extended in Tapio’s own “Prayer for my Brother” and in the improvised blood-letting of “Releasing the Pain.”

Tapio’s other composed melody, “Karelian Temple,” also stands out, but for the sheer beauty and purity of his flute sound and the meditative sense of order. There are special joys in some of the purely improvised pieces too, e.g., the title track (“Matka” is Finnish for “travel”) with Tuomi’s dense array of metallic sounds intermingling with Tapio’s flute.

The CD concludes with a traditional “Eskimo Song” in which the two are joined by Kusti Vuorinen and Hannu Lehtoranta in a vocal quartet recorded outdoors amid bird song. It’s an apt conclusion to a tour at once concentrated and diverse.
–Stuart Broomer


Always Coming from the Love Side
Eremite mte 59/60

While the City of New York has changed completely and rapidly in the last two decades, one can still find small clutches of what the boroughs once offered – spots of renegade art and life buried beneath super-gentrification. The buskers beneath the streets are still in effect, though apart from a balafon and a few kora players, most notable these days are a possessed Beatles interpreter and a few drum battles. Yet the air around and under Astor Place where the 6 train stops still crackles with energy, resonating out of the white and brown tiles in the alcoves that once were a small amphitheater for TEST, a freely improvising unit consisting of drummer Tom Bruno (1932-2012), reedists Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter (who also played trumpet) and bassist Matthew Heyner (NNCK). Supported by the MTA’s Music Under the Streets initiative, TEST performed regularly in the subways throughout the mid-90s and into the early 2000s, also playing concerts from the Vision Festival to the Whitney Museum of American Art. The band grew out of music that Carter and Bruno were making under Manhattan and all of the players save Heyner had been playing in the subways for years. In part if not in whole the music bubbled up from the community-oriented approach that characterized the NYC Artists’ Collective and 501 Canal Street, a loft which Bruno, vocalist Ellen Christi, multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore and saxophonists David S. Ware and Alan Braufman had occupied from the mid-70s.

There were never tunes or heads – TEST’s improvisations grew and spiraled out of one another, but always linked up in pulsating shimmies, “free” but with an ever-present loping, somewhat clanky groove. While most groups of the period – Ware’s, Jemeel Moondoc’s, Roy Campbell’s, William Parker’s – were compositionally-centered, TEST (and a few others) were completely open with both horn men switching between an array of saxophones, clarinets, and flutes. No matter how good the contents are, hearing TEST on disc is nothing like hearing them in their natural habitat, and of the four albums that were released during the group’s lifetime, only one was captured outside of the studio (Live/TEST, Eremite, 1999). One couldn’t feel the disarming contrast between pure expression and workaday indifference or occasional intrigue from passersby, bodies wrapped in action and deep listening against unforgiving concrete and steel. That said, it’s appropriate that these archival recordings were captured on a 1999 tour on which TEST played Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge in Chicago – the old space, on S. Indiana, which was closed to make way for new developments in 2006. Malachi Ritscher, who died the year that the original Velvet closed, recorded these five improvisations spread across two discs (they were mastered by the recently departed Michael King). Hearing Bruno’s dry, rolling chatter as a subtly thick constant around and behind the guttural staccato of Carter’s horns and Mateen’s crisp, keening baubles in near constant interplay, sometimes slashing and at other times in a relaxed loquacious swing, Heyner’s ropey pizzicato supporting underneath, is a marker of time and place. The back stage at the Velvet, low-lit, with a smattering of black tables and chairs and saxophonist-owner Fred Anderson unassumingly tending bar and door, is indelibly scratched into the memory of those who were there, just as one who witnessed TEST in a downtown New York subway performance never forgets it. Luckily these two strains of completely uncompromising artistic space were able to share an above-ground moment a few months before the Millennium.
–Clifford Allen


David S. Ware Apogee
Birth of a Being
AUM Fidelity AUM096/97

Rhapsodic. That’s the first impression of this music, and one that would define many listeners’ engagements with Ware’s music over his renowned career, sadly cut short a few years ago. This release (part of a planned series of Ware archival editions from AUM Fidelity) puts the spotlight on the 1977 Hat Hut original release, supplementing it with an extra hour’s worth of prime stuff from the same sessions. It’s remarkable how early on Ware and lifetime associates pianist Cooper-Moore (then known as Gene Ashton) and percussionist Marc Edwards achieved their distinctive sound and approach.

On “Prayer,” Cooper-Moore’s piano is borne on huge waves so lustrous that you’re immediately drawn in, moving between different harmonic areas and riding the emotion. It sets the tone for music that is unflaggingly exuberant, inventive and intense throughout. “Thematic Womb” is a quarter-hour piece, and finds the trio shifting into gear with a punchier feel. Edwards kept knocking me out. He’s such a compelling player, able to keep momentum and density going while still finding a ton of space and tonal variety, all with a dexterity that’s sometimes rare in creative improvised music. While Cooper-Moore digs in with dense chords, Ware plays some big fat melodic lines for contrast, wringing maximum intensity from them and winding up through them to heat and ecstasy. A big and fast-moving Ware solo opens “A Primary Piece #1,” followed by dense fragmentation from the piano and pattering drums. But make no mistake: this trio had range and reserve, able to layer in lots of rests and space even in a heated context like this. Things might sound at times like a furious Cecil Taylor small group, but pay close attention to Cooper-Moore, playing not only spiky cross-volleys or heatwaves, but little Herbie Nichols-like bagatelles in the storm.

The second version of “Prayer” seems to draw not only on the Ayler/Call Cobbs influence that is immediately obvious, but parts of it almost directly anticipate Ware’s “Godspelized,” recorded nearly twenty years later. It’s a bit darker in places, but just as powerful, especially when Edwards channels lightning to fuel the music. The dense, punchy “Stop Time” is practically an Edwards feature, giving him extended measures for raging solo playing. Over the seventeen-minute range of the piece, each musician is featured similarly in what might almost be elongated trading fours, capped off by a great unaccompanied Ware solo. The slightly somber “Cry” is another terrific, lyrical piece, spotlighting Ware’s incredible tone amidst delicate brushwork and trinkle-tinkle piano (and some of the session’s most adventurous harmony too). And finally, the release is capped by a short Cooper-Moore solo “Ashimba” (with kalimba, from the sound of it) and a lengthy Ware solo piece, a mature and inventive statement of his variation on his influences, from Rollins to Ayler.

This is intense music for sure, not exactly the Big Bang but still nourished by original energies. Packaged gorgeously, too; it’s an essential release.
–Jason Bivins


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