from Slam Productions runs through a whole range of jazz styles
from vocal standards through Pinski Zoo’s electro-jazz-funk to free improvisation.
These three releases draw on some standard material but lean more towards
Any recording which features George Haslam’s resonant baritone is bound to
be worth a listen. There just isn’t enough of his, or other, baritone playing
around. Not for me anyway. This time he is a part of a trio comprising Steve
Waterman, trumpet & flugelhorn and Robin Jones on congas and percussion.
They have taken a Latin approach with their chosen material, partly because
they formed at a Latin festival and, I’d guess, just because they like the
tunes. So apart from one Haslam original, ‘Soft Awakening’ and the collective
title track these are all covers and, in some instances, standards.
Of course, the line-up allows the tunes to be fairly loosely interpreted
and gives each player space to develop within the given structures. For example
Haslam sets up the bass riff on ‘El Manicero/The Peanut Vendor’ while Waterman
explores the familiar melody. On ‘Tea For Two’ the muted trumpet leads as
Haslam takes bass duties. There is a contrast, in general, between the brightness
of the trumpet and the darker texture of the baritone but the two players
never lock horns, so to speak. What happens is that they work around each
other in a complimentary fashion allowing themselves space.
There is some difference on the title track where Haslam features tarogato.
Here they indulge in closer interactions and the playing is freer, even more
querulous at times. Further variety is apparent on ‘Begin The Beguine’ where
Waterman plays ‘electronic valve instrument’. There is a haunting atmosphere
which Haslam warms up before it settles into an ersatz cabaret feel as Waterman’s
instrument lays down chordal colourings that sound a little like a keyboard.
I could virtually imagine diners making small talk under electric candlelight.
Despite the Latin inspiration I found some of the playing a bit cold, as
though it needed another instrument to warm things up. But mainly I liked
the spacious quality of this trio’s music.
Riley and Coxhill recorded their duets partly in private and partly live
on the same day at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. It is a venue noted
for its excellent acoustics, something that is essential for music of this
genre. Both players on ‘Duology’ have worked extensively together and in
many other configurations in free music so they are well attuned to each
other and the listener will probably have a fair idea about what they will
come up with. Having said that I must say that I have never been a huge fan
of Lol Coxhill’s idiosyncratic stylings. I did enjoy his work with Steve
Miller and others in the early seventies but often I’ve steered clear. This
duo with Riley however has made me listen again. I think Riley’s fierce,
jagged attack is an apposite companion to the saxophonist’s forays into hoarse,
high register explosions. Sometimes Coxhill’s keening and bleating can become
distracting. However, in this case, balanced by the muted and ponderous qualities
of the keyboard, it doesn’t. Obviously I need to hear Coxhill more in this
I know that seeing one track titled ‘Solo For Lol’ made me uneasy. But, perversely,
this finds Riley alone mining the instrument for clear, sharp sonorities.
Maybe it is a sort of zen concept where Coxhill simply sits it out ‘solo’.
By contrast, ‘Exemplary’ opens with a clarion call from soprano and we are
treated to just under two minutes of closely recorded solo playing. Equally
wonderful is Riley alone on ‘Say No’ where his playing is abrupt and suggestively
elliptical. He also explores piano prepared in a way that is similar to sometimes
partner, Keith Tippett. The strings resonate with percussive jangling and
Most of the tracks are fairly short, clocking in at around 2 to 5 minutes,
but a couple of the live pieces are a little more stretched out. But not
in an over-indulgent way, thankfully. There is no sense here of undisciplined
blowing. For example, ‘Two Timing’ runs through a range of textures from
Coxhill’s slurred notes over Riley’s sustained two handed assaults through
more jagged sparring between the two men. But it is clearly a close interaction
as they follow each other, sometimes diverging but always together. This
music is often extremely powerful but never bombastic.
The last of these cds is the one that occupies the most unstructured territory,
that of free composition. It can ask the most of both players and listeners
and sometimes be an exclusive experience where the players seem remote from
their audience, intentionally or not.
These musicians are all fairly seasoned veterans of the scene. Bassist Tony
Wren, for example, can often be found in the company of Howard Riley. They
display a strong responsiveness to each other’s ideas and there is a focus
on attention to detail. This can result in music which is low-key, not all
blast and volatility. ‘Capsules’, for instance consists of restless bowing,
tapping and plucking with only occasional gruff interjections from Martin
Kuchen’s sax. It is sometimes difficult to separate the sounds and be sure
which instrument is producing them. This results, for me, in a pleasingly
seamless cohesion. They can also produce music that is surprisingly varied.
In parts of ‘Mandelbrot and Julia’ abrupt sax and edgy, bowed bass clash
but there are equally some moments of delicate understatement from Raymond
Music of this nature does make demands on the listener but as Joe McPhee
said recently, ‘A lot of people think that listening is passive, you sit
there and it washes over you. You have to participate’. That is true
of all three cds, especially this one, but it is worth it.