Bagatellen review by Clifford Allen

Shoup / Burns / Radding / Campbell – Levitation Shuffle (CF 073)
While the one-horn-and-rhythm model of a jazz band has pretty much ingrained itself in the consciousness of the canon, what happens when this instrumentation goes beyond the stratosphere and opens itself up to other, perhaps non-jazz areas? Surely, there are some prime European models of what a saxophone, piano, bass and drums can do – say, Keith Tippett’s Mujician or the Schlippenbach Quartett – but there seem to be far fewer un-beholden to the jazz/free jazz tradition in American improvisation. Four musicians from the Pacific Northwest convened in Seattle in 2003 to make a stamp of activity and humanity beyond semantic limiters: altoist Wally Shoup, pianist Gust Burns, drummer Greg Campbell and bassist Reuben Radding (now based in New York). Though divided into seven tracks, The Levitation Shuffle is essentially a suite, with its first three segments of a whole unto themselves and the latter four nicely-contained vignettes of openness.

As with the best examples of non-idiomatic free improvisation (even as that calls to mind certain aesthetics, but we’ll try to leave something of a blank slate here), this quartet breathes in a unified fashion, if continually subdivided and hydra-headed. The rhythm section is of particular empathetic note, Burns creating and destroying his own etudes at a moment’s notice as Radding and Campbell dissect their own thrashing into minutiae. Burns is a melodic player at heart – like Gary Peacock, he creates a constant field of melody as support for Shoup’s bittersweet flights. Despite erring on the side of filigree, in terms of motion there is something in common here with the Schlippenbach-Niebergall-Lovens trio. Radding is pure muscular weight, applied in definitive crags, while Campbell strings a web of glassy little-instrument percussion around the openings. Shoup is a lemony-toned improviser, salvos of puckered notes emitted in bright ingots. He has a tendency to ride atop the rhythm section’s activity, sometimes sticking out like a bent thumb over the trio’s delicate intricacy, and often being hurled forth by their mass.

Shoup, Burns, Radding and Campbell are in good company. Along with Mujician, the famed 1974 Schlippenbach Moers concert (part of which was issued on FMP as Three Nails Left), or Cecil Taylor’s more “composerly” Nailed and Student Studies, they’re vying for the crème-de-la-crème of saxophone-plus-rhythm improvisation outfits. Considering for a moment such heavy peers, The Levitation Shuffle comes with very high recommendations.

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