Free jazz trumpeter/composer/independent label impresario Jeff Kaiser's pfMENTUM has a new release by alto saxophonist Dick Wood out this week called, Not Far From Here.
After five or six listens, here's my assessment : crazy good !
Featuring a cast of LA's deepest underground improvisers, Not Far From Here takes time-honored elements of the free-jazz continuum and radically alters them with cauterizing facets from electronic to post-Cage percussion and "chance" improvisation dynamics.
The cast is strong with a core band of trumpeter Dan Clucas, bassist Hal Onserud, live electronics specialist Mark Trayle and drummer Marty Mansour. Saxophonist Chuck Manning and trombonist Dan Ostermann also make powerful contributions to two tracks.
Wood uses Ornette Coleman as his touchstone, much the same way that Wynton Marsalis does with Louis Armstrong, although Wood drifts quite further from his source than Wynton does.
There is a definite link to those early Atlantic Coleman sessions on Not Far From Here, but only in tantalizingly brief episodes, usually to begin and end the pieces.
It's where they go after stating the fanfare like melodies that make this disc unique.
The album begins with "Ignatious" where long, drawn horn textures bookend short unison fragments. Onserud's bass inhabits the divide between Richard Davis and William Parker and skillfully lights the path which Clucas' trumpet drunkenly veers around. Wood strings together long skeins of gritty alto lines and squalls of mayhem while Trayle's live electronics provide snippets of an entirely different conversation.
In "Mango Season", trumpet and alto twist around each other like snakes in mating season. Suddenly both horn players switch to flute while Onserud plucks a series of quick fingered thumb-position lines that have a vaguely Southeast Asian component. Meanwhile strange electronic disruptions cycle through like a sci-fi soundtrack, or a throbbing aneurism which might burst at any moment. Onserud takes a completely out-of-the-box arco solo, with rubs and squeaks before switching to a plucked ostinato that supports an Art Ensemble type horn chant. Monsour's drums get all funky, sparking a wiggly squall of a solo from Wood. Clucas follows with a spot full of smears and blats -- channeling Lester Bowie through Don Cherry.
"Cook The Books" begins with looped, manipulated voices and twisted electronics, even a randomly dialed boom-box radio before erupting into a multi-horn (Manning and Osterman guesting) trill-off evocative of the hornets-nest-on-fire dynamics Ornette and Pat Metheny explored in "Endangered Species," from their collaborative "Song X" way back when.
All the horns emerge at different times and locations for a freewheeling discourse that veers way off the beaten path. Special praise goes to drummer Mansour, who blends such disparate elements as New Orleans (via Ed Blackwell) to modern orchestral (via John Cage).
The title track flirts with a freebopish swing before dissolving into more moods than junior off his meds. Woods leaps into a skittering alto solo similar to the kind of caterwauling that John Zorn does at times.
This record is not for the faint-hearted. But, if you dig the joy of adventure and the thrill of the unexpected, check this out.