Shoup/Burns/Radding/Campbell – The Levitation Shuffle (CF 074)
If “Seattle jazz” has a sound, it’s most often the kind of determinedly mainstream, round-edged modernism of Origin Records, Tula’s, and the like. Great stuff sometimes, but (as with Seattle politics) rather lacking in danger or surprise. But there’s long been another strain to Northwest jazz—one that doesn’t necessarily even affiliate with “jazz,” one marked by a fierceness you get elsewhere in Seattle music. Wally Shoup is a longtime leader in this subterranean Seattle workforce, and his new disc of free improvisation is maybe his most arresting yet. I’ve often felt like Shoup’s intensity got lost when he was competing, as he so often does, with the power of an electric guitar—nature’s breath is always going to lose out to a Marshall stack and pedal-pushing shrieks. But when kindled, as here, by a strictly acoustic quartet, Shoup’s dragonfire cuts a more awesome path than ever. Rarely in the Seattle free scene will you hear a session that is so assured from beginning to end, that never gets lost and never bails out through the overblowing escape hatch. In this 2003 session, just released on an adventurous Portuguese label, pianist Gust Burns and drummer Greg Campbell provide a restless, muscular undergirding, punchy and excitable for the full hour. Even more striking is the interplay between Shoup and onetime Seattle bassist Reuben Radding, who mimic and goad each other, reed to bow. It’s no surprise that Shoup’s a painter because he plays his alto sax in brush strokes—a thick slab, some spattered dabs, twisted lines, a crisscross repeated over and over. Then sometimes he’ll just chuck the whole bucket against the canvas. As with paint, there’s a strong surface, textural quality, and it’s part of what differentiates Shoup from so many improvisers who are carving out melodies and songs, or following more of a Trane-like “questing” motion. This session does what free jazz should do—take you on a trip, destination unknown, where returning to the bridge or the chorus isn’t going to happen, and yet you’re just as sure, at the end of each cut, that you’ve arrived exactly where you’re supposed to be.