Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

BassDrumBone – The Other Parade (CF 223)
Featuring nine new compositions commissioned by Chamber Music America’s “New Works” program, The Other Parade was recorded in August 2009 in honor of BassDrumBone’s 30th anniversary. Since 1977, trombonist Ray Anderson, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Gerry Hemingway have constituted the longstanding trio, whose 1979 debut recording Oahspe (Auricle) was recommended by Cadence founder Bob Rusch as “Exceptionally good music, fearlessly played and tightly coordinated.” To their credit, the same could be said of their most recent effort, more than three decades hence.

Though the group has weathered dormant periods, their virtually clairvoyant rapport has continued to grow, lending a timeless air to an approach that draws from every facet of jazz lineage for inspiration – from Dixieland to free. Balancing inside and outside aesthetics with seamless transitions between composed and improvised passages, they upend hallowed customs with cagey arrangements that invert prescribed instrumental roles. Despite being the sole horn, Anderson makes ample use of space and silence, occasionally sublimating his bright, cheerful tone and mercurial phrasing in support of Helias’ buoyant pizzicato excursions and Hemingway’s sanguine percussion ruminations; in effect, all three musicians are responsible for providing melody and rhythm.

As composers, each member contributes equally to the session; yet despite the subtle stylistic variety of their writing – which veers from expressive blues and mid-tempo swingers to greasy funk grooves and rousing second-line struts – these lyrical pieces all exude a cohesive sensibility redolent of their authors’ stylistic accord. Endlessly shifting dynamics within each tune, they vary rhythm, tempo and tone with their carefree, synergistic rapport.

The strutting opener, “Show Tuck,” demonstrates their effortless integration of avant-garde elements into structured improvisation. Taking the lead after a funky opening theme, Anderson’s solo modulates from harmonious to discordant, intensifying into blistering chromatic runs that culminate in rip-snorting bellows and gutbucket slurs. The further out Anderson ventures, the more abstract Helias and Hemingway’s interplay becomes, devolving into a pithy three-way conversation. Hemingway’s nimble drum solo follows, emulating the harmonic implications of the core melody with a graceful transition back to form. Similarly, Anderson’s madcap muted lyricism provides consistency to the deconstructed blues “The Blue Light Down The Line,” as Helias and Hemingway weave a spare underpinning that nudges the piece forward with laconic pacing. Rooted in convention, tunes like “King Louisian,” “Soft Shoe Mingle” and “Lips and Grits” work progressive variations on foundational tropes, hearkening back to Dixieland and Ragtime.

Anderson, Helias and Hemingway have each matured into venerable solo artists over the past thirty years, together as BassDrumBone they persevere as an increasingly rare entity – a touring collective that incorporates new material into their oeuvre that is as fresh and exciting as their formative efforts.

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