By Derek Taylor
Drilling down to the most viscerally satisfying dyad of instruments is in free jazz by definition an exercise in subjectivity, but as convincing a case as any can be levied for the tandem of tenor saxophone and drums. John Coltrane and Rashied Ali, Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink, Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell… the remainder of this review could be easily be consumed by the cataloguing of improvisers who have made major statements with the pared down format. English drummer Steve Noble and Norwegian actor-turned-improviser Kristoffer Berre Alberts add their efforts to that venerated lineage with Coldest Second Yesterday, a concert captured from the summer of last year that finds them both deep in the duo zone.
Three pieces add up to a modest thirty-four minutes of music, but the relative brevity works in both players’ favor with a set that’s at once lean and aggressive with no space for encroaching longueurs. Alberts approach to his horn is a pleasingly personalized amalgam of elders Evan Parker and the aforementioned Brötzmann, juggling full bore, reed-splintering blasts with detours into murmuring reed pops and fluttering multiphonics. From his section of the stage Noble gauges a similar spectrum of energy and movement from clattering tumult to more circumspect patterning with sticks, brushes, fingers and palms. The combination sustains an admirable degree of focus and even at their most apoplectic and frenetic it’s readily discernable that they’re listening closely to each other.
“Animal Settlement” sets the stage as a nearly seven-minute salutation grounded in ferocious free exposition and shared ebullience. “Inclination” apes the diagonal movement intimated by its title, accelerating in density and volume to a diffusive exit. “Order Left Behind” is last to arrive and opens almost in media res with whinnying horn and pounding tom toms slashed by serrated cymbal accents. More vertical interplay ensues with Alberts’ firing geysers of raw, squealing sound from his instrument’s bell while Noble carves up the underlying rhythm with a frothing and eddying display of stick play. Together they complete a decent job of capturing the kind of cathartic liberation that is the common end game of this style of music without compromising individual clarity or audience engagement.