Milford Graves and Bill Laswell – Space/Time–Redemption [TrackList follows] – TUM

Milford Graves and Bill Laswell – Space/Time–Redemption [TrackList follows] – TUM CD 040, 61:23 [2/24/15] ****:

(Milford Graves – drums, percussion; Bill Laswell – basses, producer)

Here is an interesting collaboration. The hour-long, five-track Space-Time – Redemption is the first duo project from free jazz drummer/percussionist Milford Graves—who has been a leading light in the avant-garde/free jazz movement since the early 1960s—and bassist/producer Bill Laswell, who has a multi-genre career stretching back to the late 1970s. Graves has been a sideman and/or session musician with artists as diverse as Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali, Albert Ayler, Don Pullen, Kenny Clarke, and John Zorn. Laswell’s résumé includes label head, producer, keyboardist and musical agent provocateur within avant-garde, art rock, ambient, dub, electronica, experimental, punk jazz and industrial hip hop. One aspect of his musical history which can get lost is his association with the outer spheres of jazz: Laswell has recorded or performed with Henry Threadgill, Sonny Sharrock and Archie Shepp, to name just a few. So, for some Laswell listeners, Space-Time – Redemption may be an unusual turn. Graves’ fans, on the other hand, will get what they expect: a varied, textural excursion into the far fringes of outsider jazz.

Space-Time – Redemption is on the Finnish label, TUM, which specializes in improvised, jazz-based music, so anyone familiar with the label’s roster (including Wadada Leo Smith, Kalle Kalima and K-18 or Billy Bang) will have a good idea of what to anticipate. The five extensive pieces feature Graves’ expressive, constantly evolving approach to rhythm; while Laswell displays his sometimes neglected musical intuition and ability to furnish astute accompaniment and provide relatable improvisations. The nine-minute opener, “Eternal Signs,” showcases Graves’ loose, flexible tom-tom work and disciplined (but never predetermined) rhythmic foundation, while Laswell (who plays electric bass on all of the material) utilizes a multiplicity of sounds, tones and effects to convey nuanced details, including careful touches of ambient and echo, which accentuate the music and are indispensable to the overall mood. When some people think of free jazz they reduce it to tuneless disorder. But this—and the other pieces—are not. There is lyricism, although not the sort which is easy to grasp; and melodicism, but also not spoon-fed. Another notable cut is the tribute to Sharrock, the unpredictably harmonious “Sonny Sharrock.” Both Laswell and Graves spent time with the iconoclastic guitarist. Graves can be heard on Sharrock’s 1969 LP Black Woman; and Laswell and Sharrock were members of free jazz supergroup Last Exit. “Sonny Sharrock” commences with Laswell’s introductory bass solo, and then Graves accelerates around and through the ten-minute conception. Graves slices and carves this sprinting homage into a percussive marvel highlighted by rolling tom-toms, lucid cymbals and percussive tinges. Laswell’s effects-laden contributions roil in and out, and at times he gives an impression that a fuller band is supplying a backing basis.

The record’s two centerpieces are the 17-minute “Another Space” and the album-ending, 15-minute “Another Time.” While these functionally thematic, lengthy numbers would probably become disoriented if done by others, Graves and Laswell keep both creations absorbing and engaging. Both tunes begin with a similar sparseness which illustrates how well Graves and Laswell can harness space and environment. As the two tunes become more abstract and build from reduction to intensification, the two musicians exhibit a wide-ranging convergence of musical understanding, and an immersed degree of communication which is synchronous and forceful. “Another Space” is heavier, with harder percussive elements, whereas “Another Time” mirrors some of the ambient/dub outings Laswell has crafted, albeit within the domain of avant-garde/free jazz rather than reggae. There is sensitivity present, even when Graves’ toms and cymbals go into a quickened overtime. Laswell doesn’t always try to match Graves’ fast stride, instead he occasionally sculpts quiet electric bass which glides underneath the rhythm. But at other times, it is Laswell who pushes and prods, hastening the pace with flurries of bass notes. Nestled between “Another Space” and “Another Time,” is the nine-minute “Autopossession,” a high-water mark for Graves’s outstanding solo percussion and drum talent. Laswell delivers a bit of atmospheric effects as a subtle background layer, but essentially this is all Graves. The CD engineering and mix is great, and was done at Laswell’s Orange Music Sound Studios in New Jersey, in October 2013. The mix and production emphasis is on Graves, as it should be. The album package is also excellent, with contemporary Finnish artwork gracing the cover and inside of the digipak, and there is a foldout booklet with brief but informative liner notes, biographical information and several photos.

TrackList: Eternal Signs; Sonny Sharrock; Another Space; Autopossession; Another Time.

—Doug Simpson

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