Stride Magazine -



Jazz From Slam

(SLAM CD249)
(SLAM CD250)


Music 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 spontaneous composition.

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 context.

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 churning.

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 Strid’s percussion.

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.

         © Paul Donnelly 2003