Contemporary Jazz Quintet

Actions 1966-67

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How many musical saw players have there been in the history of jazz? To further narrow the scope, consider that same question limited to the 1960s; the number could be counted on one hand. Here is an album by the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, a group that indeed had a full-time musical saw player in its number, and as novel and downright goofy as the idea of "jazz saw" sounds, nobody on this date is goofin'.

The lone album released by the Quintet (Hugh Steinmetz on trumpet, Franz Beckerlee on alto sax, Steffen Andersen on bass, Bo Thrige Andersen on drums, and Niels Harrit on -- yes -- musical saw) was simply titled TCJQ. It was an early experiment in electric jazz in Europe and was released in 1968 on the Dutch Debut imprint. Its four long tracks were variations on a group composition titled "Action" and each version got its own number; seven through ten ended up on the album. "Action I" was recorded a few years earlier in 1964 by a smaller version of the group, the Contemporary Jazz Quartet, with Sunny Murray on drums and no musical saw in sight. So here for the first time are the missing "Actions" numbered two through six as recorded by the Quintet in the mid-'60s. Unlike the TCJQ disc, the "Actions" heard here were recorded acoustically, making it a much different listening experience. The music is stark and haunting, and its immediacy recalls both Albert Ayler and the New York Art Quartet. The sound of the saw provides much of the eerie atmosphere, but it is the dialog that Harrit creates with Steinmetz and Beckerlee that makes this band more than a novelty act. The acoustic properties of the saw make its presence faint at times, but it never completely disappears, keeping up quite well with Beckerlee's razor howls, and its near-vocal quality lends an otherworldly quality to the proceedings. Actions will likely slip under the radar, even that of jazz fanatics, but the quality of playing here makes this an album that is sure to gain admirers slowly and surely, like the true gem that it is.

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