Glen Hall and Outsource

The Roswell Incident
Leo / CDLR313

Glen Hall / reeds, electronics, Roswell Rudd / trumbone, Allan Molnar / vibes, Michael Morse / bass, Michael Occhipinti / guitar, banjo, Barry Romberg / drums





Owlsong / OWL2001

Vattel Cherry / bass, Jane Wang / bass, Alan Lewine / bass, David Kaczorowski / bass, Marjani Dele / voice, one track only, Benjamin Tomassetti / alto sax, one track only, Daniel Powell / tenor sax, one track only

Hall’s Outsource is different band from the one which appeared on “Hallucinations”, but a similar sound thanks to the presence of the mighty Roswell Rudd and the extremely talented Allan Molnar on vibes, an unusual instrument to hear in this kind of funky, contemporary free jazz. Vattel Cherry’s daring double bass quartet is working in a similar area, pulsed and recognisably jazzy, but of course in a very different sound-world.

Hall is a good enough reedsman although not an oustanding one; his main strengths are composition and arrangement, in which he recalls the likes of Threadgill, Richard Abrams and others of the Chicago school of free jazz which was more influenced by hard bop and the blues than the high-energy players whose names and music were perhaps better known at the time. As such, the music is broadly non-tonal but otherwise very traditionally jazzy; even those who normally shy away from anything more difficult than Monk or Blakey will find most of this music familiar.

The participants here are all of good stock: Occhipinti, in particular, makes a strong impression, a bit impresonal but full of great ideas. Rudd, of course, is majestic, and he and Hall make a frontline sound which is somehow bigger than it ought to be. Molnar’s vibes cool the temperature a little, but he’s as smart as a pianist and provides challengingly dynamic harmonies for soloists to bounce off. Romberg is a bit busy for this sort of thing, but not enough to cause problems; Morse holds everything together with a slow, slinky swagger.

This is a more focussed and much more impressive record than “Hallucinations”. Fans of free jazz at the Tim Berne end of the spectrum will probably love it, and while it’s not the most difficult thing Leo are likely to put out this year, it’s extremely well-crafted and worthy of wider recognition.

It’s one thing to do this kind of thing with two horns and a rhythm section, and another thing entirely to attempt it with four double basses. Vattel Cherry, however, as done just that, and pulled it off, too. Bassrespanse are an audacious undertaking, but the music is entirely convincing.

The arrangements are, as you might expect, the thing. These pieces contain a great deal of composition and the layering of percussive, pizzicato and arco elements enables the quartet to create their own virtual equivalent of drums and horns. There’s very little cheating — some small percussion instruments make appearances, nothing else — and that’s part of the pleasure of a group like this; one hears the whole palette of free jazz through a very specific filter, which can be extremely enlightening and full of surprises.

Solos are generally taken arco and, as you might expect, they’re often more avant garde than the sorts of things Hall and Outsource get up to. Here there’s far more energetic scraping or plucking going on, restless and often abandoning pulsed rhythms. These are emphasised, obviously, in collective improvisations like “Ready Set Go”, but even these aren’t undisciplined — the four create sonic textures and stay with them, evolving them slowly rather than running about aimlessly as the title might suggest. There are also through-composed pieces like the gorgeous “Waltz for Four Basses” and the sprechgesang “Louis Devereaux”, Dele’s guest spot. The words of the latter tell a not-very-interesting story about the eponymous character watching his own funeral, but the performance is exuberant enough to carry it. The reedsmen guest together on the last track, a rather bitty affair with some nice moments.

BassRespänse are, particularly as an unaugmented quartet, a fascinating listening experience. Not because groups of basses have never played this kind of music before, but because these players seem to have developed a way of playing it which is extremely effective, both traditional and experimental. By its very nature it may not be a long-lived project, so try to catch up with them if you can. Richard Cochrane