Brian Groder – Groder & Greene – Latham LATHAM5409-2, 75:07 ****:
(Burton Greene – piano; Brian Groder – trumpet, flugelhorn, producer; Rob Brown – alto saxophone; Adam Lane – double bass; Ray Sage – drums)
Groder & Greene is a decisive case that proves 20th century free jazz continues to be vital and expertly accomplished in the 21st century. Pianist Burton Greene and trumpeter/flugelhorn player Brian Groder – along with alto saxophonist Rob Brown, bassist Adam Lane and drummer Ray Sage – are experienced pros of the progressive jazz scene and together the five artists have forged one of this year’s finest works of fully improvised material.
The 75-minute outing shows music unfolding in real time, true spontaneity occurring when the microphones went live at The Studio on Greene Street in New York City in October, 2007. While the quintet may have discussed forms to follow or the order of instruments, or perhaps some expectations regarding tempo or mood, its obvious there were no pre-existing melodies, lines, explicit chords or other structural elements written down beforehand. There is much autonomy at play on the nine tracks, each piece swirls, bursts with energy and the responses to each moment are plainly unanticipated. Even so, there is also a perception of objectives being met and a keen impression of order. There is, above all, a high degree of focus and communication.
The album commences with the approachable "Landfall," which starts with Lane’s easygoing bass groove, Groder’s standard bebop trumpet and Greene’s bustling single-note piano runs. Gradually the tune expands into a provocative nexus of auditory impacts: Sage’s leaping drums, Brown’s tense saxophone and Greene’s knotty and rhythmic keyboard lines that evoke Cecil Taylor’s percussive patterns. The piece works as a striking strategy to introduce the players’ authority of their instruments as well as the particular improvisational methodology that is shaped throughout the session.
Burton Greene was one of the leaders of the 1960s free jazz movement, performing and recording with Marion Brown, Sam Rivers and Rashied Ali; was a member of the Jazz Composers Guild; and founded the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble. He has also explored Indian ragas and Klezmer jazz. All of which means Greene is well-suited for any instinctual activity and his broad range is suitably displayed on this project. One acute presentation is "Cryptic Means," an amply contemplative and intent horn/piano duet that veers from aesthetic ambience to taut agitation. Greene executes piano phrases with cadenced precision, occasional furious flashes, judicious repetition and flickers of contemporary classical and avantgarde. Groder, meantime, demonstrates his fluent style with empathetic sustains and a crisp direct tone filled with lyricism.
Brian Groder is a relatively newer performer who has already made a name for himself and recently got kudos for an undertaking with Sam Rivers. On this date Groder creates equally amazing moments paired up with Brown. Their spontaneous melodies perspire with passion, and they craft exhilarating streams that quote from the avantgarde, post-bop and the two even slip in a few traditional tidbits that longtime jazz listeners should recognize or at least find familiar. Groder and Brown’s alchemy is felt on nearly every track, with the record’s longest cut, "Nigh," an excellent example. While the whole quintet stretches out during the impromptu ten and a half minutes, Brown and Groder repeatedly trade unison lines, work phrases against each other and otherwise reveal brilliant modes of interaction.
The album’s only credited composition, Greene’s "Hey Pithy, Can You Thropt the Erectus," investigates diversified timbres and ideas but as the title suggests owes more than a little inspiration to Charles Mingus. The many-sided offering exhibits the fivesome’s collaborative and collective discipline and combines gospelish moans and groans, touches of blues, shouts and vocal urgings and a waggish humor. There is a manifest sensation of banter as the musicians goad each other and curve off into different directions while somehow maintaining a contrasting cohesiveness. The sax and trumpet often double lines, while Lane and Sage proffer dramatic expositions on bass and drums, experimenting with time signatures. On the whole, Greene conveys constant motion on his piano with his impressionable approach, although he drops out for an interval, thus allowing Lane room to carry out some stunning plucked passages.
The venture comes to a closure with the pensive eclipsed "Sleepwalker," which has an intrinsic ambience. Lane uses a bow to express a haunting melodic discernment while Groder and Brown append graceful and lightly discordant solos, smartly complementing each other. Greene coils along with distinguished contributions that frequently glide under the horns and bass. And Sage applies cymbals, brushes, percussion and softly employed mallets. His skimming but varied rhythms give the European-tinted invention a stabilizing foundation.
2. Only the Now
3. Separate Being
5. Cryptic Means
7. Hey Pithy, Can You Thropt the Erectus
8. Surmised Wink
— Doug Simpson