Keefe Jackson Quartet – Seeing You See (CF 176)
Jeb Bishop Trio – 2009
One of the youngish Americans who have helped create a humanistic approach to trombone playing, Chicago’s Jeb Bishop has been omnipresent in that city’s improvised music scene as well as on gigs elsewhere and in Europe.
These CDs – serendipitously recorded almost exactly a year apart – show why he has been able to work in bands with leaders as different as saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and drummer Mike Reed. Bishop’s first disc as leader in a decade, 2009 provides 11 instances of his composing and improvising aided by bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly, who individually or as rhythm team, work as often in the city as Bishop.
Part of the Roswell Rudd lineage of expressive brass playing that relates back to pre-modern stylists – New York’s Steve Swell is his First City counterpart – Bishop’s contributions are particularly notable on reedist Keefe Jackson’s disc as well. Although Roebke is also on board, another contributing factor to Bishop’s simpatico interaction with the tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist may be that both are originally Southerners – the trombonist from Raleigh, North Carolina and Jackson from Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Certainly on Seeing You See they appear to function at times as mirror images of one another. The most common strategy is for one – usually Jackson, since all the compositions are his – to state the melody and work out variations to it. Meantime the other front-line partner provides rococo and sfumato coloration. More often than not Roebke walks appropriately and drummer Noritaka Tanaka provides the necessary rolls, rebounds and pops.
With much of the material taken moderato and languendo, and most theme statements restated at the end, overall the band strategy reflects that of those unselfconscious, yet cool combos of the 1950s and 1960s, such as bands led by baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. The slippery chromatic blowing and front-line contrapuntal voicing on a piece such as “Put My Finger on It” is a prime example, especially when à la Mulligan, an energetic drum break appears at one point. Rim shots and opposite sticking from Tanaka on “Turns to Everything”, break up the tune with an unexpected bounce. Additionally, while the trombone part is Harmon-muted, Jackson, who in the past has ventured into non-mainstream territory with a band featuring Swiss tubaist Marc Unternährer, creates a nervy tour-de-force of flying altissimo and crying reed bites.
More empathetic sounds are created by the quartet on the intermezzo that is “Close” and which ends the CD. Taken at a dawdling, relaxed pace, the chronology maintains a balance among Bishop’s restrained capillary puffs, Jackson’s low-pitched bass clarinet slurs, and the bassist’s barely-there strokes.
Limiting himself to a trio formation on his own disc, Bishop still makes the performances constantly interesting by using a variety of rhythms and voicings. Frequently employing stop-time and with Rosaly, at least here, seemingly a more aggressive drummer than Tanaka, the program flows agreeably.
One instance of this is “Dusk”; with the drummer emphasizing the back beat and the bassist slaps and slides. Here too the trombonist exhibits a collection of wide-bore licks, which are slithery and sturdy at the same time. In contrast, “Full English” depends on lightning-quick tonguing and plunger resolves from Bishop on top of Rosaly’s brush work; while the ‘boneman’s spluttering and vibrated triplets nicely balance steel-fingered-like bass-string thumps and Latinesque rim shots on “11 AM Verti Marte”.
Other tunes mix pressurized and soothing interface, usually from Bishop’s trombone. He contorts his way through various brass slurs and clucks with low-pitched tonguing on “The Elliptical Blues” and burrows deep inside the tube with rubato blows and a series of a capella tones to enliven the interlude that is “#3 (Cleo)” and which match up with the bassist’s guitar-like plunks.
The notable work on 2009 confirms that the trombonist has waited far too long to helm his own session; hopefully something that will be rectified from now on. Furthermore his playing and that of the others on Jackson’s CD also confirms that the number of creative musicians in and coming from, Chicago remains unabated.