Ken Filiano Fourfer: The bird, the breeze and Mr. Filiano; Surface Tension; Fulminate Trio; The Ultimate Frog
Paulo Curado – The bird, the breeze and Mr. Filiano (CF 113)
Steve Adams Trio – Surface Tension (CF 131)
Fulminate Trio – Fulminate Trio (Generate Records)
Jim McAuley – The Ultimate Frog (Drip Audio)
It was Ornette’s Quartet which finally bust open the floodgates, allowing equal freedom of expression for the bass as the frontline. 50 years on and Charlie Haden’s lessons in freewheeling commentary, allied to pulse unhitched from chord changes or bar lines, have now been so thoroughly absorbed as to be part of every bassist’s birthright. Ken Filiano, with his muscular tone and bold arco work, makes full use of that freedom on this quartet of discs.
The Bird, The Breeze and Mr. Filiano constitutes the bassist’s second recording with Portuguese reedman Paulo Curado and they have clearly developed a strong rapport, ably abetted here by drummer Bruno Pedroso. Everyone benefits from a spacious group conception, fashioned over 11 collectively-credited tracks in the 56-minute program, even though some are solos or duets. Given the cohesion of the trio and the beauty of some of the extemporized melodies, such as the gorgeous flute line which caps “Novos Mundos para o João,” it would be easy to believe these were notated compositions. Both individual expression and group interaction flourish at a high level, whether through the language of breath sounds, furtive drum rolls and keypad pattering which congeals into nervous momentum on “Pequenos Duendes” or the way Pedroso responds to Curado’s every twist on the lengthy “Villages (The Vanguard and All)”.
On Surface Tension, recorded in 2000, Filiano plays a prominent role alongside Rova saxophonist Steve Adams’ saxes and bass flute and Scott Amendola’s percussion, whether doubling up on the heads or stepping out with intricate runs. All eight pieces are from Adams’ pen and fall loosely into the ‘freebop’ arena. Adams rings the changes through his choice of axes, where he particularly engages on baritone, being casually funky before turning up the temperature on “The Another Form in Time Voice” and positively burning on the conclusion to the fiery “Cacophony (for Vinny Golia)”. Arco bass filaments intermingle pleasingly with bass flute on “Upper and Lower Partials” and Filiano’s taut a capella intro to the title track is one of the high points of this solid session.
With drummer Michael Evans and guitarist Anders Nilsson, Filiano completes the Fulminate Trio, for the five tracks of their eponymous debut. Carla Bley’s “Floater” forms a languidly dreamy opener with resonant guitar/bass congruencies drifting effectively over shuffling percussion; otherwise Evans and Nilsson originals comprise the remainder of the 55-minute program. A strong collective group aesthetic prevails, resulting in dense soundscapes, through which the ear is drawn to Nilsson’s sometimes rocky, sometimes lyrical guitar lines. “Road Runner/Coyote” is a doomy mélange of scuttling guitar, slashing arco and rumbling percussion while “The Red One” starts in a similar vein, combined with sparingly deployed electronics, before Filiano deconstructs a loping bass riff over which Nilsson spins expansive stories.
Veteran guitarist Jim McAuley’s sparse discography belies his 40-plus years of activity, so the two-disc set of largely improvised duets on The Ultimate Frog is a valuable document. McAuley worked in the folk rock and LA session worlds before settling under the creative music umbrella. While the 2002 session with the late violinist Leroy Jenkins may be one of the main selling points, those with Filiano, guitarist Nels Cline and his percussionist brother Alex are no less rewarding. McAuley’s idiosyncratic blending of free jazz, folk and blues draws open, determinedly non-idiomatic responses from his partners. But though mixing up the pieces by different collaborators keeps things fresh, the relatively constrained sonic palette means this 98-minute project feels best sampled a few tracks at a time.