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Günter Baby Sommer + Raymond MacDonald
Sounds, Songs & Other Noises
Clean Feed CF607CD

German drummer Günter Baby Sommer and Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDonald conjure a harmonious and foot tapping experience on Sounds, Songs & Other Noises, even though the program is entirely improvised. Such was the success of the pair’s first album Delphinius & Lyra (Clean Feed, 2007) that they have toured occasionally ever since. On 16 concise tracks excerpted from a brace of concerts in Edinburgh in 2016 and 2019, which break the five-minute barrier on just three occasions, the simpatico duo explore what might be termed the mellow avant garde.

Each brings a distinctive voice. In spite of a reputation as a wild man of the European free scene, Sommer loves to swing. In that respect at least his kinship with Dutchman Han Bennink is evident. His nickname stems from his affection for Louis Armstrong’s drummer Warren “Baby” Dodds. Indeed, his consequent command of the rudiments, with their echoes of Prussian march music, have come to form the basis of his expression in even the most unfettered settings. Allied to that is a kit which privileges unconventional textures and tuned pitches, adding both drama and fun to his interactions.

MacDonald, a stalwart of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, though with roots in jazz and pop, brings a rich hinterland to bear. Although much of his recent activity falls within the realm of spontaneous collaboration, with the likes of Marilyn Crispell, Alexander Hawkins, and Alister Spence, to focus on just the pianists, here he shows himself to be a master of extemporized melody as much as extended reed technique. Multiphonics, circular breathing, and percussive plosives all find themselves pressed into a storytelling sensibility.

The title signals the intent, and together they do what it says on the tin. Whether through the laidback late-night atmospherics of the opener “I’m On The Way To Become A Ballad,” the haunting introspective “Precious Metal” where cymbal accents punctuate a continuous yodeling line which shows some affinity to folky bagpipe patterns, or the throaty cries atop distant thunder of “From Somewhere Else To Nowhere,” they demonstrate a near telepathic understanding. Sommer tracks the contours of MacDonald’s trajectory assiduously and inventively, here a buoyant rat-a-tat, there crisp chattering brushwork, while the reedman layers his effects judiciously, nowhere more so than on the “Five Miniatures” which pithily showcase Sommer’s knowing attention to timbre and pulse.

Perhaps the only thing missing is a sense of provocation. If anything, there’s almost too much agreement. While the jaunty lockstep ditty of “Hiking Song” for example might induce smiles and delight in concert, some may find the resultant sugar rush palls on repeated listens. But maybe that’s just quibbling with the overall aim of the set. That caveat aside, it’s a good-natured and celebratory affair from two old comrades who share a like-minded approach.
–John Sharpe


Alister Spence + Tony Buck
Alister Spence Music ASM013

Residing in Berlin for years, percussionist Tony Buck has fewer and more far between opportunities to collaborate with longtime Australian colleagues like pianist Alister Spence. This brings increased gravity to encounters like Mythographer, an early 2022 studio session recorded in Sydney. Improvisers of their caliber have a regard for space, generally meaning the area around a phrase or a sound. Australians like Spence, Buck, and their cohort, have a heightened sense of expanse, great tracts of openness in which materials can be placed and resonate – a practice exemplified by The Necks, the trio of Buck, Chris Abrahams, and Lloyd Swanton. This complements the privileging of elemental sounds that have been a notable facet of both Spence’s and Buck’s respective work.

Both traits are in abundance from the outset, as small percussion and prepared piano conjure a scape that is neither lush nor barren on the opening, well-titled “Dry Wood Talking.” Not limiting themselves to limpid, haiku-like utterances, they then carefully build contours that tap the full capacities of their instruments, while maintaining the music’s initial intimations of reverential regard. The album then unfolds as something of a tour de force, not in the conventional sense of raising the bandstand or the roof, but in how they navigate the spaces between Spence’s more overtly jazz-informed music and the minimal playing associated with the recently resurgent Necks. There are robust exchanges dotted throughout the album, but they have the rigorous balance and finely wrought details of the more muted passages.

The world has shrunk incredibly since Spence and Buck first made themselves known in the northern hemisphere, but albums like Mythographer still leave listeners with the sense that there is an intriguing musical world to discover down under.
–Bill Shoemaker


Chad Taylor Trio
The Reel
Astral Spirits AS210

The Reel finds the Chad Taylor Trio, featuring tenor saxophonist Brian Settles and pianist Neil Podgurski, following up their acclaimed debut The Daily Biological (Cuneiform, 2020) with an equally captivating sophomore album. As an in-demand sideman, Taylor needs no introduction; the versatile drummer has co-led the Chicago Underground with Rob Mazurek since the late ‘90s, all while contributing to myriad projects by Avram Fefer, James Brandon Lewis, Marc Ribot, and countless others. The Reel reveals Taylor’s Trio becoming an even tighter unit, showcasing their near clairvoyant level of interplay. The familiarity with which the trio plays is no accident however, as they all first met while studying at The New School in New York in the mid ‘90s.

The album features compositions written by all three members, as well as covers of two tunes by the legendary pianist and composer Andrew Hill. On the opener, “Subterfuge,” Taylor imbues a subtle Latin touch to Hill’s hypnotic modality, while Podgursky gracefully combines lush chord voicings and dancing single-note phrases with effortless dexterity. Settles is more assertive, ushering forth a freewheeling flow of ideas, with Taylor demonstrating his versatility during a series of four-bar exchanges with his bandmates. Conversely, the angular theme of Hill’s “Reconciliation” is underpinned by the leader’s sensitive brushwork, setting the stage for probing solos by Settles and Podgursky, who extrapolate the thorny theme with knowing confidence.

Taylor’s two songs focus on rhythm; the jubilant “Julian’s Groove” employs a ravishing Afro-Cuban beat to excellent effect, while the folksy title track, with a meter in five, boasts a rubato section for piano. “Moon Tone Shift,” penned by Settles, offers a salient example of the Trio’s intuitive chemistry and unbound expressionism. Ostensibly a ballad, the tune begins quietly, with cyclical chord changes building from somber lyricism to a rhapsodic climax. Podgursky contributed four of the album’s nine tracks, writing the bulk of the material. His pieces range from the multilayered “Delta,” with its disarmingly opulent melody, to the exquisitely sophisticated “Omniverse,” which closes the album with intervallic melodies bolstered by Taylor’s tasteful drumming.

Complex yet unpretentious, The Reel boasts a rarefied combination of emotional immediacy and unfettered experimentation. Sounding like an aesthetic distillation of Taylor’s career to date, the album never settles into any one particular style, yet the program’s stylistically cohesive sensibility is as much a product of Settles and Podgursky’s shared tastes as it is Taylor’s. Bringing out the best in his fellow musicians, Taylor relies on the strengths of his seasoned collaborators, whose playing and songwriting abilities help make The Reel an even more impressive statement than the group’s debut.
–Troy Collins



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