Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Blood Sweat & Tears - Not Really an Appreciation, But Maybe

A week ago I mentioned listening to the first Blood, Sweat & Tears album, Child is the Father to Man and how I felt a greater appreciation for it than I originally had when I first heard it years ago. The next night I got out the group's second, self-titled album. That's the one with all the big hits: "Spinning Wheel," "You've Made Me So Very Happy," "And When I Die" and a slew of other AM hits.

That album looms large in my musical history because it was one of the first records I remember listening to as a kid, right up there with Herb Alpert. I actually have a distinct memory of being left alone in front of the stereo listening to it and getting to flip it over and play it all by myself. I recall this in part because I used to begin with Side Two, probably because "Spinning Wheel" kicks off that side. Also this means their versions of the Erik Satie theme came back to back instead of at the beginning and end.

That album would probably qualify in my case as a guilty pleasure. While there are a number of elements with the album that are pretty progressive and unique, it also contains a lot of things that are kind of hokey. Number one being David Clayton-Thomas, the band's vocalist. After Al Kooper's white boy blues on Child I guess the CBS brass wanted to make sure the band got someone with soul, but Clayton-Thomas is closer to Vegas than the Apollo in his execution. In my memory, I feel like I associate him more with my parents' Four Freshman albums than I would with my brothers' Janis Joplin or Beatles records, meaning he sounded to me less like a rock guy than an adult contemporary guy.

While I was away this weekend, I kept getting snippets of the album stuck in my head. Most of the time it was "Blues Pt. 2," the 11-minute opus made up of solos by different band members. As a kid, I found Dick Halligan's organ solo both eerie and fascinating. It rises and falls in dynamics, implying scariness and wild imagery, the latter especially when the Leslie speakers start rotating towards the end. It always made me think of some clump of dark clouds floating in the sky. Jim Fielder's bass solo is fast and impressive and Bobby Columby's drum solo is full of chops. Fred Lipsius' alto always sounded to my young ears like a human voice. It almost like he's running through modes as Fielder plays a one-note octave vamp. There's one point where it always sounded like crying to me.

Listening to it now, I'm curious how the whole thing happened in the studio. Was it one take or did they edit it all together? Did producer Jim Guercio have to make something out of a mish-mash of solos, and was that the idea?

Regardless, the track goes to pot after Lipsius winds down. Things get very quiet before the group launches into a brief, extremely lumbering riff from "Sunshine of Your Live" followed by guitarist Steve Katz briefly quoting "Spoonful." Sorry guys, I know you have the chops but it sounds too stiff. Sometimes rock and jazz don't mix.

With another fanfare, Clayton-Thomas enters testifying about the women in his life. Nothing against the singer - who looked a little like Jonathan Winters and Roy Clark to my young eyes - but he doesn't convince me that he's a stud. Things eventually build up into a vamp that recalls the coda of "Try a Little Tenderness" with our hero begging his woman to give him the affection he deserves, wailing as the song fades out. That freaked me out as a kid. The proceedings end calmly with a flute and acoustic guitar redux of the Satie piece, almost as if to assure the three-year olds in the audience that the scary man is gone.

Damn, I can't believe I've said this much without even touching on the first side. There's the awful rendition of "God Bless the Child," which nevertheless has a great blowing breakdown in the middle, with some great trombone (Jerry Hyman), trumpet (Lew Soloff) and sax (Lipsius) solos. Their funky take on Traffic's "Smiling Phases," which still sounds a little unconvincing, although the piano solo  in the middle must've blown minds at the time, especially after coming right after the psychedelic re-voicing of Satie that opened the album. How many college student jazz heads saw their future open up for them upon hearing that? (Apparently Sammy Davis, Jr. liked their take on "Smiling Phases" so much that he lifted the whole arrangement for himself.)

Back to Side Two for a moment: Their arrangement of "You Made Me So Very Happy" is a little slick but it's also very well done, with all the horn punctuation and the dual piano and organ in the coda. That's Al Kooper's work, it should be noted. With all their ducks in order, they have the cohesion of a soul band.

I started looking around youtube for some vintage BS&T footage, hoping to come across them stretching out and blowing over some blues changes or "Cherokee" or something. There was one high-quality performance of "Spinning Wheel"  from some t.v. show, where they play the edited, single version of the song, sans Soloff's trumpet break. Upfront there's ol' Dave smiling like a pro, with the rest of the band looking stoic (something that always drew me to the inside design of the album). There was also some grainy live footage of the band that only focused on Dave's face, with cuts to the horns and to Columby's hands.

I ran into a trombone-playing friend of mine last week and we were cracking up, thinking about a later BS&T song "Lucretia Mac Evil" which beats all the above songs in terms of corniness. That same album (BS&T 3 - not to be confused with Chicago III; very creative Columbia marketing peeps) has a medley called "Symphony for the Devil/Sympathy for the Devil" which, after a quick thought, might be worth a purchase for a few bucks if two friends can get a big laugh out of it.

Then there's "Go Down Gamblin'" from BS&T 4 (c'mon guys, you're killing them!) which IS actually pretty badass.

I'll stop now.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering Chuck Austin

Ben Opie just posted in Facebook that Pittsburgh trumpeter Chuck Austin passed away Saturday morning at 5 a.m. I'm not sure how old Chuck was, but he had seen a lot of history on the local jazz scene, which included playing with soul singer Lloyd Price after "Personality" became a big hit. Also - he was in a group called The Band years before Robbie Robertson, and this band was remembered in the Teenie Harris exhibit, which featured Chuck in an interview talking about them.

I'm not in a position to give you an accurate obit on Chuck's life. But I did see him play numerous times with Opek, and I interviewed him for a Pulp article about jazz in the city. He was the president of the African-American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh, who worked to ensure that the history of the Black Musicians Union would not be forgotten. He was an absolute gentleman, the type you rarely meet these days, who was always willing to share his history with you, but never let that be where his legacy ended. He was there right up until the end, pushing music forward, blowing Sun Ra with Opek until he couldn't do it anymore. He was a frank speaker, but didn't want to ruffle any feathers. And, if all that isn't cool enough, he used to hang out with Horace Parlan, long before that pianist pulled up his roots in town and left to play with Charles Mingus and to eventually move to Europe.

There were times in recent years that I've gone to Opek shows and wanted to reintroduce myself but Chuck was either already involved in a conversation, or else I just felt too bashful to step up. I wish I could've talked to him more. Knowing what little I do about Chuck, he probably wouldn't have minded.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CD Review: Ches Smith's Cong for Brums - Psycho Predictions

Ches Smith's Cong for Brums
Psycho Predictions

Psycho Predictions is all Ches Smith, but it shouldn't be considered a solo drum album, or a solo percussion album either. Smith does use his trap kit, along with some percussive devices and the vibes, but he also incorporates electronics into the mix, jumping quickly from one of these instruments to another, sometimes before there is a chance to adjust to the mix, while at other times the transition offers a welcome relief from abrasive noise.

It's best to listen to this album (a vinyl-only release, with a digital download) and imagine a live performance. Think of it that way, and this idiosyncratic performance gets really engaging. The opening segment, "Death Chart," begins moving quickly in a manner that must be totally engaging when it happens a few feet from your seat. Any listener who uses their cellphones as an alarm, or who's used to jumping up from their desk when receiving an email alert, should prepare to be spooked in the first few minutes. Without so much as a break, Smith kicks off on the traps with a loopy beat that provides respite from the electronics. These jarring noises are probably the hardest thing to take throughout the three-part piece, simply because they're so shrill and loud.

Psycho Predictions was recorded without any overdubs so the imagine-the-performance focus gives a greater perspective to Smith's dexterity. If there are any silent moments, they exist intentionally to provide pause. Otherwise things flow from one section to another or build upon an initial idea until you have to wonder if the vibes were live or triggered by a sample, and if the electronic countermelody was preplanned or not. By the time Smith starts playing the toms around the middle of "Conclusion: That's Life," he makes you listen with a completely different perspective on the trap kit. It's not merely a fill or some random hits that he's playing. It sounds like a melody. This section concludes with a real frenzied drum solo which also feels too brief after the journey we've traveled.

Smith has played with everyone from Tim Berne to Terry Riley to indie rockers Xiu Xiu. That diversity has really opened his mind to all kinds of musical possibilities for his instruments of choice. While there are moments on Psycho Predictions that could've progressed a little faster, the whole thing comes across as a solid effort.

Addendum 1/6/13: For some reason this review has attracted a lot of spam. For that reason, I'm disabling the comment section.

Random Leftovers

I remembered the third thing I wanted to talk about in the Saturday entry I wrote. On the way home from work, I turned on NPR a few minutes before six o'clock, right when they usually interview a musician. The guy talking to the interviewer (at this point I didn't hear names) was explaining how he reacted when he first had success and popularity. He was talking about comedy and jumping into the story mid-way, it almost sounded like he was a musician that dabbled in stand-up, or vice versa.

He started explaining at length that he suddenly had all of this attention on him - being interviewed for Rolling Stone, for example -  and he was worried he had nothing to say, so he created this persona so that nobody would think he was boring. It took him a long time to realize that he wasn't doing himself any favors and that he was lucky to have this success and he should've appreciated it more.

The thing is, he was speaking as if it wasn't this realization gave him some newfound modesty or served as a wake-up call. He sounded as if he was operating with the same level of self-importance that he had initially when his big-head brought him success.

And this is the edited version.

I was hanging on for dear life wondering how the hell this windbag was. They cut to a song in the middle of the story, which sounded kind of bland - and then they finally reintroduced him and  I knew why I was loathing this subject. It was John Mayer. A man for whom every movement is GRAND GESTURE. Every lyric is a statement. Even when it's something vapid like "I'm going out west with my earbuds on." That could only mean something big is happening, or your searching for something. Yeah right.

Please note that I usually go online and fact check info while I'm writing, but this time I did not. There's a slight chance that I'm a little off with some details but the whole sentiment of this windbag is pretty much on the money. Besides I have other things to talk about.


I borrowed a stack of albums from a friend of mine a few weeks ago, which included Blood, Sweat & Tears' debut album Child is the Father To Man. That album has always received high praise as something of a high water mark of adventure and experimentation for a band that quickly went on to play it safe and head for the middle of the road. I heard it back when I was about 20, and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. So I figured it was time for a reexamination.

Time has helped me appreciate it more. Turns out BS&T - at the time helmed by Al Kooper, pre-David Clayton-Thomas - was a pretty interesting band, as long as Kooper wasn't trying to be a blues belter. There is some interesting arrangements that take pop music to a more elaborate level. But it's incredible that a band could be on Columbia Records - home of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk at the time - and that the horns could sound so thin. I'm presuming they worked in the label's legendary 30th Street Studios, but things sound really tinny like they didn't get a good sound level.


In listening to the discs by Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore that I got from Clean Feed last week, I found it pretty impressive that Stein actually blows some sounds on the album that honestly sound like no other bass clarinetist out there. I mean every horn player begins sounding a little like their predecessors if nothing else because they're playing the same instrument. From there, everyone has some new spin on the vocabulary. But Stein emits some pops and growls that sound break new ground.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CD Review: Hank Mobley - Newark 1953

Hank Mobley
Newark 1953

Let us take a moment to figure out where the pioneers of bebop were at the time of this recording and where this cast of musicians was coming from - and where they were headed. Charlie Parker still walked the earth in 1953, and four months prior to the concert, he played at Toronto's Massey Hall in what would later be considered (at least in one reissue) the greatest jazz concert ever. Bird's worthy constituent at the performance (if you've heard the album, you get the reference) Dizzy Gillespie would hire Hank Mobley a year later for his quintet, along with drummer Charli Persip (who still had the "e" at the end of his first name).

That same year Hank Mobley and pianist Walter Davis, Jr. had recorded with Max Roach on Debut (which first released the Massey Hall show) and the tenor saxophonist was often touring with rhythm and blues bands. Which means that he was on a fast track at that time of this recording, less than two years away from joining Horace Silver in what would later become the Jazz Messengers.

Newark's Picadilly Club was were this double-disc set was recorded, on a Monday night no less. Comedian Redd Foxx booked the band (Mobley, Davis, Persip and bassist Jimmy Schenck), who would bring in a touring soloist to join them each week. On September 28, that guest came in the form of trombonist Bennie Green, who would also go on to record for Blue Note, as well as several other labels.

Being a club date, the musicians stretch in their solos without worrying about the length of the tune, a rarity of course on records but also on the few live recordings made at that time. The two sets last just a few minutes under an hour, and they play five and six pieces respectively. In "Pennies from Heaven," something of a show piece for Green, the quintet goes on for a full 16 minutes, none of it excessive. In fact the only bit of excess on the whole set is the perpetual goading from either the m.c. (not Foxx, according to the notes) or an audience member, who regularly yells, "Blowblowblow," or quotes a Mobley phrase back to him, mid-solo. As far as sound quality goes, the disc is pretty solid. The horns come through loud and clear, while Davis and Schenck require some leaning in to the speakers to fully pick up on what they're doing.

Mobley's reputation seems to get stronger and stronger with each passing year (which wasn't the case during his lifetime), and it's clear in these sessions that even if he didn't have the wind power to create a tone on the level of Sonny Rollins, he possessed an amazing mind, capable of executing long, fully-developed lines in his solos. At the time, putting quotes into solos was de riguer and he goes whole hog in Gillespie's "Ow," throwing in "Irish Washerwoman" and a brilliant wedge of "Tico Tico" in the middle eight. When Green finally hands over the spotlight to him in "Pennies from Heaven," the tenor saxophonist blows with a rare aggression, as if he's been chomping at the bit as he waited his turn.

Green puts on a strong showing as well, combining a smoothness that comes out of a swing past which he combines with bop ideas that players like J.J. Johnson were patenting at the time. Speaking of swing, Persip definitely drives the band, but its interesting to hear his heavy emphasis on a straight 4/4, which is also close to a swing drummer rather than what was coming down the pike from the likes of Blakey and Roach. (Persip would soon quit this gig to join Gillespie, later bringing Mobley and, two years later Davis, with him.)

Uptown as usual includes a thick booklet with this album, loaded with photos, many of them covers of albums that featured the players, as well as promo shots of the artists from later in their careers. Some of the LPs are interesting, like the Joe Gordon album on EmArcy which features the unsung Schenck's face. But other more common covers, as well as a page of matchboxes from other Newark clubs, seems like filler.

No matter, because the music is historically significant and sonically hot.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

This Nearly Was Mine

Playing right now: Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore - A Calculus of Loss (Clean Feed)
(Finally got my Clean Feed package that I ordered at the end of April, at the tail end of their sale. Looked at the sale items and two Locksmith Isidore things were what jumped out at me. This album is freer and looser than the other one I heard, but pretty hot so far. Bass clarinet squonking along with dirty, double-stopped cello - which makes me think of Abdul Wadud with Julius Hemphill - and splattery drums.)

The June issue of JazzTimes showed up yesterday. The cover story is the Top 50 Greatest Tenor Saxophone Albums of all time, with Sonny Rollins on the cover. Several months ago I got a mass email from the brass at JT asking for suggestions on the Tenor list. First I thought that I'd come back to it later (classic thought when I go through emails). Then the deadline came and I thought, well I just don't know. Well, I do, but it's all the obvious stuff: A Love Supreme, Fire Music, Sonny Rollins Live at the Village Vanguard, Coltrane at the Vanguard. Hell, I could devote half the list to John Coltrane.

But I blew it off.

So yesterday, I'm thumbing through the list, when suddenly it hits me: Rip, Rig & Panic by Roland Kirk (pre-Rahsaan).  Sure, Kirk plays two other saxes on the album, but it revolves around tenor and he's monstrous on that album. That should've been on the list, but it's not there. And I would've been the one writing about it.

There's also a story on Tim Berne. A big honking feature on him. I've been wishing I could write about him for years. You know how long I've been following him? 24 years. I remember because I heard Sanctified Dreams in 1988, a few months before turning 21. That album didn't get mentioned in the sidebar, which instead featured the album that included Bill Frisell.

I'm not slighting the magazine. It's best to have a cat in New York write about Berne, since you can see him play on a semi-regular basis and hang out, probably in some Brooklyn coffee shop. But still.

And there was some other jazz-related (not exactly a) gripe I had, with myself most likely. But I can't remember it now. Probably not as important.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

CD Review: Hush Arbors/Arbouretum - Aureola

Hush Arbors /Arbouretum
(Thrill Jockey)

It's hard to explain why some bands can play one riff and it betrays a lack of imagination, while the same riff in someone else's hands can rock you to the core of your soul. Play an A chord, with a bounce down to G every four bars and it can either be a strong statement or a holding pattern until a real idea comes along.

Aureola, a collaboration between the bands Hush Arbors (aka Keith Wood) and Arbouretum never gets too complex, chugging on riffs ranging in size from one to three chords. I didn't fact check this, but most of them seem to be built around A, which sounds really great when it's either finger-picked or strummed, especially when there's some fuzz behind it. Maybe the difference is that these guys realize that when playing music as basic as this, you have to make it count, either with dynamics, extra musical trimmings or vocals. (Of course if they just got too baked to care, there's something to be said about the lack of inhibitions that comes with mind-altering substances, but that's not for me to say.)

Wood sings the first five songs and Arbouretum's Dave Heumann handles the remaining three. Wood has forged a prolific career under the Hush Arbors moniker and as a member of Six Organs of Admittance and Thurston Moore's touring band. His voice possesses something of a high warble but not in a self-conscious indie rocker sort of way. He sounds very self-assurred and that makes a strong opening with "Lowly Ghost." The bass has a non-sustaining (meaning "percussive") groove which goes well with the finger-picked acoustic guitar that establishes the foundation of the tune. "Prayer of Forgetfulness" follows with a bright, upbeat groove that gets this album off and running towards greatness. A strain of country filters into his other tracks, including a guitar riff straight out of Dylan's "I Want You," before Wood wraps up his side of the disc with some gothic folk.

This is when the vinyl format helps to play up the contrast (and compatability) between the two bands.

Considering that Arbouretum's three songs drone on longer than any that preceded it, the split between the acts can still be considered even. The distorted power chords come out in full force, with Heumann's vocals leading the way, not quite as fragile as Wood but gentle enough when necessary. A song like "Black Sun" might be simple in terms of its building blocks, but it's not really repetitive because subtle changes pop up as it moves along. The band gradually builds from a start of picked chords and gradually adds slow drums and fuzz bass that's impressive in its restrain. "St. Anthony's Fire" has the end-of-the-album blowout quality to it, and the frenzied guitar solos bear this out.

File this one under Sleeper of the Year. It snuck up on me and now I can't get it out of my mind.

Two Nights on Penn Avenue

Hospitality came back to the Brillobox last night. When they played there back in February their debut album on Merge hadn't been released yet. (It dropped at the end of that month.) Now that it's out they've been touring almost non-stop, and it showed from the opening seconds of their first song. Their sound was pure cohesion - all bright chords and catchy hooks. Tight guitars and bass, not a lot of sustain to the rhythm but that's okay because it created kind of a dancey feeling. The drumming was really propulsive too. The first few songs came in a quick flow without much break between them. That's something I can get behind.

While they headlined the show in February, last night the bill was topped by Here We Go Magic.  This was the first I'd ever heard them, and although I was in the back of the room chatting for most of their set, I still managed to pick up on the songs and dug them. They also had a poppish vibe going on but it seemed to add some Velvet Underground-via-kraut-rock drone to it. Their set and the individual songs were pretty long, but they never got dull.

This was the second time in a week I went to a show at Brillobox. Last Friday, I walked in as Carousel was playing their unironic take on '70s hard rock, complete with harmonized guitar melodies. Holy freakin' crap were they loud. That room is small as it is, so there's really no reason to mike all those guitar and drums. But they were, and during one song, Dave Wheeler was singing so strongly (the guy can belt), that I started to get dizzy. Boca Chica played next, which was a real study in contrasts, as they are a female-fronted, country-inspired electric folk act, with pedal steel. You couldn't really hear the pedal steel guitar though.

I broke my bad habit of nodding off during a Harlan Twins set due to the lateness of the evening and the work of beverages. Meaning, those factors usually leave this ol' man sleepy at that time of night. Not so on Friday, so I caught the whole Harlans set. And it was good. Only one song sounded completely familiar to me. The rest were relatively new.

It would be soooooo nice to go back to sleep now. Can't understand why I can't get into my groove. I did go to bed late and didn't get as much sleep as I'd like, but I also did not get real juiced last night at the show. I'm trying to watch that.

Monday, May 14, 2012

CD Review: David Bindman Ensemble - Sunset Park Polyphony

David Bindman Ensemble
Sunset Park Polyphony

Sunset Park Polyphony incorporates a number of disparate influences. The 17-minute title track alone attempts to recreate the layers of sound heard in that Brooklyn park - different languages spoken there, children's voices, not to mention the general atmospheric bird and traffic noises. Elsewhere he reminisces about his youth in New Jersey and yet another piece functions as a suite about a fictional character named, uh, Eyepod who "rises to great heights... while turning a blind eye to resulting injustice and environmental devastation." (More on that later. Stick with me.)

Musically, the tenor saxophonist borrows a lot from traditional Indian music, basing pieces on unusual groups of notes or pulses, (6 1/2, 15, 23, 31) which accelerate or slow down at his discretion. West African rhythms are used in another piece, which makes drummer royal hartigan sound like two players.

The double-disc set has a fair amount of text for each piece, but the music doesn't necessarily need an explanation to make the listener appreciate what Bindman is trying to accomplish. It does add a further perspective to what inspired the work, but the music also stands on its own. Although the album might be considered an entry into the world music category, it's better to call it a new forceful strain of jazz.

There are moments in "Sunset Park Polyphony" (the piece) that sound like Bindman is coming out of a Coltrane Quartet style, playing over a drone, shaping and reshaping a phrase. Then towards the end of his solo, which is only the opening section, his choice of notes take a more Eastern European dynamic. Of course Coltrane drew on a lot of these influences in his work, so it's less a case of Bindman trying to evoke his forefather and more of him going to the original source. Here, hartigan seems to play with speed, accelerating and slowing down during his solo.

In several pieces, the Bindman ensemble creates a pregnant pause between sections, which always adds a bit of suspense to the piece. It happens in at least three tracks and always works well. "Landings Suite," the story of Eyepod, a modern day Icarus, begins with "The Transient" where a 31-pulse cycle has all three horns (Bindman, trombonist Reut Regev, trumpeter Frank London) playing around each other, with all of them moving forward and not losing any focus. The other five sections of the suite continue with wide-ranging textures, which sometimes sound like some of Gil Evans' scoring on Sketches of Spain, other times incorporating a piece Bindman wrote for a dramatization of Billy Budd. The final movement, "Recurring Dream" has a ska/reggae feel which is grouped in pulses based on African drum calls. This isn't simply a good time groove, it's something deeper.

Bindman, whose rap sheet includes work with Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton and the Brooklyn Sax Quartet (which he co-founded), might not be working out of the same concept as Dave Holland, but he achieves something that Holland has done while working in odd time signatures. He doesn't let listeners get bogged down in the rigidness of them. And the band - which is completed by pianist Art Hirahara and bassist Wes Brown - makes it sound as natural as if they were swinging a 4/4 groove. I counted out the 23-note phrase of "Robeson House Echoes," (a piece dedicated to the late Bill Dixon, who would like this album) and the feeling was just as exciting.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

CD Review: Nordeson Shelton - Incline

Nordeson Shelton
(Single Speed Music)

Some drums-and-saxophone duos make listeners forget that there isn't a rhythm section or additional lead instruments buttressing the music. (That's a verb not used enough in writing like this.) Through dynamics or sheer brute force, there's usually enough sound taking place so that anything more would be excessive.

Kjell Nordeson (drums) and Aram Shelton (alto saxophone) might not have attempted to go in the opposite direction, but there are several moments in Incline where the stripped-down sound ("minimalism" isn't really fitting) is in plain view. "Slope," the eight-minute closing track, forgoes an end-of-the-album blowout in favor of droning notes and streams of air from the horn and subdued percussives from wood blocks and metal. As he does in other tracks during the album, Shelton ruminates on his alto, playing simple figures which he hangs in the air and casually reshapes and restates. Long notes morph into buzzes or high squeals, while Nordeson imitates a ticking clock to cue the ending. "Slope" actually comes off more like a comedown after "Soles," the penultimate track that also begins gently but takes off after two minutes into a roll of driving percussion and expansive alto lines.

Nordeson's multi-directional approach to his kit has been noticeable up to this point - and compelling in the way it's panned between the two channels. But what isn't clear at first is that he doesn't play the trap kit in the typical free manner of press rolls and thundering toms. There are bass drum explosions but the wood and metal mentioned earlier, along with splash cymbals, shape most of his performance. The whole thing has a jittery sound to it, but it also makes him the focal point or the shaper of these nine tracks, and contributes to the overall bare sound of the performance.

Shelton, who is also a gifted composer and bandleader with his quartet and in the Chicago-based Fast Citizens (where he lived before relocating to California), gets some unique tonal qualities out of his horn too. In "Village" his growl has a metallic sound that evokes a guitarist like Marc Ribot. "Tower" offers a guessing game where it's hard to tell if you're hearing bowed cymbals or quiet saxophone notes and/or the pads of the alto being shut rapidly or gentle sticks or rims.

Nordeson and Shelton also play together in the quartet Cylinder in addition to this setting, which they've kept together since 2008. Nordeson came to San Francisco two years prior after numerous projects in his native Sweden, among them the AALY Trio with Mats Gustafsson. Few of the tracks on Incline last more than five minutes, and perhaps due to that, Shelton doesn't take opportunities to cut loose as much as his accomplice. While the album might not be as consistant as Cylinder's self-titled 2011 disc on Clean Feed, these guys should spark the interest of free improv fans.