Meniscus / 003
Gino Robair / percussion, Dave Barrett / reeds, Myles Boisen / guitars, CD player, John Butcher / sax, Carla Kihlstedt / violin, Tim Perkis / electronics, Dan Plonsey / clarinet, LaDonna Smith / strings, voice, Matthew Sperry / bass, Oluyemi Thomas / reeds, percussion, Otomo Yoshihide / turntables, CD players
Music on Seven Occasions
Meniscus / 004
John Butcher / sax, Gino Robair / percussion, Alexander Frangenheim / bass, Veryan Weston / piano, Thomas Lehn / synthesiser, John Corbett / guitar, Jeb Bishop / trombone, Terri Kapsalis / violin, Fred Lonberg-Holm / cello, Michael Zerang / percussion, tubaphone
F Vattel Cherry
For Those Who Heal
F Vattel Cherry / bass, John Dierker / bass clarinet, Peter Hickey / bass, Blaise Siwula / alto sax, John Voigt / bass, Ras Chris / guitar, harmonica, bamboo fulte, percussion
Albums which compile duets in varied groupings are so often unlistenable; of the good tracks, one isn’t enough, and the less good ones sound as if they’re there just to make up numbers. One wonders why each grouping seems to have been unable to generate enough music for a proper record, or feels one is being fed scraps from the table. The result can be a pointlessly jarring, ill-conceived release of music in the wrong format (MP3, perhaps, would be better)
The quality of the music on Gino Robair’s dreadfully-entitled contribution to this dubious genre is good enough to lift it beyond the reach of these reservations, however. Dan Plonsey tears it up; Kihlstedt and Sperry come over all Arvo Part-like; Tim Perkis comes from another planet, and plays with quicksilver inventiveness. Each and every one of the fourteen tracks is a little gem. They’re not too little, either (another source of potential irritation): at up to nine minutes, each one is weighty enough to gather its own momentum.
Still, though, the feeling that these sorts of records are designed as documents rather than as listening experiences persists. Overall, they can sound a bit like a singles collections, or compilation tapes. Nevertheless, this one is especially good to dip into and of particular interest to those not so familiar with the musicians featured.
Robair’s disk includes a superb trio featuring John Butcher and, with pleasing symmetry, Butcher’s own collection of duos with varying partners includes two with Robair. This disc, however, is organisaed rather differently. For a start, there are four brief but still valuable segments of Butcher solo, something he has made very much his own. Secondly, the nine different partnerships are grouped together, and the selection is clearly biased in favour of Weston and Zerang (three tracks each), then Robair (two tracks); the rest appear once only.
Presumably this is an attempt to overcome the bittiness inherent in the format. Butcher’s voice is far stronger and more distinctive than Robair’s, and so the battle is half won anyway because of the continuity this gives the tracks. Further, his aesthetic is sufficiently strong that the music on all of these pieces sounds, as it were, of a piece, which helps enormously. As with Robair’s disc, the selection of partners is impeccable; to risk repetition, however, one yearns to hear more of each grouping, and by the time a particular partnership’s working methods begin to make sense, their section is over. As with Robair’s disc, the material here is extremnely good and very valuable stuff to have access to, but one hopes that album-length releases from some of these sessions will become available in time.
Vattel Cherry takes a rather different and ultimately more successful approach to the format on “For Those Who Heal”. Instead of wide-ranging instrumentations, he’s gone for reeds-plus-bass, bass-plus-bass and bass solo. There are only eight tracks, one of which (the one with Hickey) is twenty minutes long, so there’s plenty of time and space to make the music matter. All five partners are strong players in the contemporary free jazz style; Dierker a sort of melodic, laid-back Charles Gayle, Siwula weaving a flowing ballad which is pure New York, Voigt (probably the best-known name here) dishing up electrified attitude, Hickey a more angular partner who challenges Cherry with happy results.
Cherry himself is a funky player, enjoying the snap and pop of the strings against the fingerboard as much as the more conventional lines and walks of this music. His playing always seems to have a strutting, almost swaggering gait about it, cocky but warm too, perfect for a gospelly, sometimes raucous but above all blues-based jazz style. The duet with Hickey is something of a step outside this territory, but it’s to his credit that they stick at it and create some dramatic, even startling music as a result.
The music on all three of these records is truly excellent. This writer would dearly love to hear albums by any of the featured duets. Your tolerance for hearing bits and pieces stitched together into an album, however, will probably be a matter of personal taste and patience. Of the lot, Cherry’s has by far the most continuity. Perhaps we ought to be more tolerant of discontinuity, but most listening situations will not favour the bits-and-pieces approach. All three recommended with that reservation. Richard Cochrane