By Peter Margasak
In my preview of this weekend’s performances by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith at Constellation, I discussed how active he’s been of late, dropping strong new work at a prodigious rate. But his partner in Celestial Weather, the project he brings to town, bassist John Lindberg, has also been getting busy, releasing new albums by a pair of very different-sounding trios. Lindberg remains best known for his invaluable work alongside Anthony Braxton during the 70s and 80s and as a founding member of the String Trio of New York, a combo that forged a special brand of chamber jazz, but these new efforts reinforce an easy versatility in his abilities.
Western Edges (Clean Feed), billed to Lindberg’s Raptor Trio, was actually recorded back in 2012 with two players he has a four-decade history with: drummer Joe LaBarbera and baritone saxophonist Pablo Calogero. I’d never heard of the reedist until I got this album, but he spent time in New York’s lower east side during the 70s and 80s—in fact, he has a track on the sound track of the seminal film Downtown 81, a quintessential document of that era starring Jean-Michel Basquiat. In his liner notes Lindberg writes that both collaborators here were active participants in the loft jazz scene in the 70s, but the music on Western Edges—composed by the the bassist and Calogero—conveys a timeless feel even if some of its pieces are 40 years old, such as Lindberg’s “T’wixt D and E” (previously called “T’wixt C and D”), which you can hear below. The performance is representative of the album’s rangy feel, where swinging grooves afford the saxophonist deeply probing, full-bodied solos and the leader authoritative asides such as the furious thrumming he delivers during the opening minutes of “Raptors.”
The music on Born in an Urban Ruin (Clean Feed) was recorded in May of this year in Kalamazoo by Lindberg’s BC3, with the veteran Detroit clarinetist Wendell Harrison and vibist/percussionist Kevin Norton. Harrison is one of several underrecognized figures from the scene chronicled in the 70s by Tribe Records, a label and collective spearheaded by trombonist Phil Ranelin. He remained in Detroit, but exerted a heavy influence regionally, as an educator and player, spurning opportunities to develop a more international reputation. He’s long been a dazzling clarinetist, with a sense of exploration on par with the great John Carter, and he shines in this chamberlike setting with Norton sticking mainly to vibes to provide countermelody and clusters of overtones. Below you can listen to “The Excavation,” another track with a significant Lindberg introduction, where Harrison’s sharp-toned lines tangle nicely with bass pizz and Norton’s alternating bowed cymbals, percussive accents, and resonant vibe flurries.