(1) Alvin Fielder Trio – A Measure of Vision (CF 071)
(2) Ethan Winogrand – Tangled Tango (CF 074)
(3) Carlos Barretto Trio + Louis Sclavis – Radio Song (CF 072)
In musical settings leadership naturally leads to a position of dominance. It’s the reason why one player’s name earns mention over others and remains a time-tested framework for successful musical enterprise. But leadership need not necessarily reflect such a relationship of dominant and subordinates. These three Clean Feed discs explore the benefits of players who fulfill their roles as leaders in less conventional fashion. Their names may still occupy the top slots, but their attention to group input and communication reveals a decidedly different philosophy toward musical creation, one that pays off with strong dividends for the degree of deference demonstrated.
Alvin Fielder (1) has nearly half a century behind him as a vital force in the creative music community. Educator, AACM-founding member, activist, and organizer all fall under his rubric and he’s led a number of groups over that span, but for reasons inexplicable opportunities to record as a leader have proven rarer than a snowball falling in Jackson, Mississippi, on an August day. Documented sideman stints are easier to come by and he’s done formidable work in the company of Dennis Gonzalez, Kidd Jordan, and others over the years. The cooperative ensemble M41 with Andrew Lamb offered another avenue of expression, but (1) marks his first release at the top of the roster. Even so, as with his past sessions, it’s a communal effort, as much a Gonzalez or Anderson album as it is a Fielder one. Most immediately striking is the intentional alteration in Gonzalez’ brass sound, which trades customary roundness and lubricity for grit and gravel on occasion. His Milesian sense of space and melody remain intact and the addition of these impurities is an
exciting change of pace from his past work, one that fits beautifully with Fielder’s orchestral approach to drums. Anderson brings a tremendous sense of time and placement on the piano. His hands run playful races with each other, but always keep the overarching musicality intact, often to a disarmingly gorgeous degree. Again, the match with Fielder’s calmly nuanced color-conscious traps play is an inspired one. Gonzalez’s sons Stefan and Aaron guest on a combined three pieces. Aaron’s “Camel” unfolds in grand modal fashion from a bass vamp voiced by the composer. The piece has the epic flavor of a mid-70s McCoy Tyner piece—if not quite the execution—and Anderson’s sparse chords further command the comparison. Gonzalez senior soars majestically above, articulating both a sense of drama and decorum with an economy of notes while Fielder builds a slow boil beneath on cymbals and snare. Stefan’s “Ripe for Vision” is another episodic journey hatched from a repeating vamp figure. The piece opens a bit sluggishly with drums and vibes sounding a bit reticent, but builds momentum in the ensuing minutes through the close harmonizing of Gonzalez and Anderson. Stefan’s vibes solo is curiously reminiscent of Walt Dickerson in its sharp, largely motorless sound and he opts for the regular drum kit all too soon. Fielder and the younger Gonzalez also engage in a drum dialogue on “Your Young Men Shall See Visions” and again the differences between elder and journeyman are evident. The date has its share of slightly meandering moments, but it’s hard not to be won over by the assemblage of talent both established and comparatively new.
Based in Oviedo, but a Brooklynite for many years, Winogrand brings a transatlantic contingent of colleagues to his music on (2). The disc draws on his two bases of operations as well with material drawn from studio dates taped at both locations. Winogrand’s musical vitae in New York City is longstanding having played in punk bands at the onset of the scene surrounding CBGB’s and later fusion and Free Jazz groups of various stripes. Mingus and Bonadonna are old colleagues, members of Winogrand’s musical circle for going on decades. Barretto and Benitez are more recent recruits, but the resulting ensemble illustrates from the onset the easy compatibility of like-minded improvisers. Winogrand’s music wouldn’t be out of place on Tzadik or ECM in its blend of world and improvisatory elements. Noirish components crop up repeatedly and an emphasis on mood shapes much of the action. Bass and drums factor prominently, the resulting undulating rhythms enhancing the work of Benitez and Bonadonna who both solo with strong attention to group dynamics. The mood is generally low-key with few garish fireworks and a focus instead on building slinky serpentine grooves, a goal echoed in the album’s cover art, which depicts a diagram for dance steps. Bernstein’s irrepressible humor is all over the title piece and similarities to Sex Mob are quick to manifest, particularly in Bonadonna’s rock-inflected fretwork. Winogrand leads without overly-asserting himself, a steady array of rhythms discreetly tumbling from his kit and keeping the others in the ensemble on their collective toes. It’s a curiously constrained approach considering the set’s dedicatee, Elvin Jones. Winogrand’s percussive style is far more frills-free than his inspiration, but the two share a commonality in terms of cogently propelling an ensemble. The solo opening to “Crocodilian Wag” is an effective encapsulation of his quiet power as he brackets Bonadonna’s busy patterns with sparse accents. “Time to Kill” traces a similar relationship, guitar and tenor voicing confident lines as Winogrand and Barretto lay down a porous walking beat. The sum is definitely a less is more proposition and well worth studious investigation.
Barretto’s bass takes a pole position place on (3) in the company of a pair of Portuguese compadres. The dynamism in his playing is on full display with a rich reverberating tone and agile string action. Most of the pieces trade compositional density for rhythmic immediacy and drive. Melody and harmonic flexibility also play important parts and the end result is music that effectively bridges accessibility with spontaneity. Sclavis’ guest presence on three out of the ten cuts alters the ensemble without upending the core rapport. His throaty bass clarinet braids with the cyclic patterns of the strings on the opening “Distresser.” Delgado jockeys between centripetal riff-based playing and jagged post-Joe Morris pointillism. His prickly patterns in the later mode on “O Rapaz do Lixo” keep the piece deliriously off-center. “Searching” is ripe with pinched note bending and warbling sustains, Salgiero and Barretto keeping up a choppy commentary at his flanks. The title track revolves on another tightly spinning rhythmic riff born out of an athletic pizzicato preface by the leader. “On Verra Bien” and “10” have much in common with the sort of chamber-friendly fare Sclavis favors on his own ECM dates, Barretto changing up with bow amidst limpid clarinet lines. Salgeiro constantly alters his beats, moving from sticks to brushes to palms and keeping a variable pulse in response to his colleagues’ equally agile extrapolations. Despite the leader mantle, Barretto is just as likely to defer to his partners. That willingness to step out of the interplay makes his moments in it all the more memorable. The three together achieve a tight, but malleable improvisatory weave, welcoming Sclavis, but also working just as well as a trio. The clean studio sound is a boon to both instruments and listener and the disc also includes a video file of the title track for handy visuals on how the ensemble operates in person. Barreto’s since gone on to a myriad of other projects (see 2) since waxing this program. No doubt the music here served as a persuasive catalyst in securing those gigs.
© Cadence Magazine 2008 www.cadencebuilding.com