Steve Swell

Live @ the Vision Festival

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Trombonist Steve Swell stands on the cusp of being one of the top five players on his instrument in modern creative improvised jazz. What he brings to any performance is a personalized, brash, unfettered, and challenging approach to his instrument, a departure in certain ways from older contemporary icons like Grachan Moncur III, George Lewis, or Ray Anderson. Recorded at the New York City based Vision Festival, Edition XII in 2006, Swell and his quintet dubbed "Slammin' the Infinite" do indeed push the envelope, play arresting free-based music, and decompose standard jazz nomenclature while also paying tribute to the pioneering heroes of the genre. For the three elongated tracks on this CD, saxophonist, clarinetist, and flutist Sabir Mateen is a constant contributor of forceful notes, exaggerated expressions, and controlled chaos. Bassist Matthew Heyner keeps everything in check, while German drummer Klaus Kugel lays out quirky, deft, and hefty rhythms that bear more than just one close listen. But it is the addition of pianist John Blum with his exploratory post-Cecil Taylor/Marilyn Crispell/Eric Watson insertions that lights the fuse on this powder keg quintet. An overtone bass solo with light bell tinklings headline the otherwise mysterious first half of "For Grachan," as the tumbling piano of Blum merges the group into a straight waltz tempo and a modern mainstream mode as Moncur was known for. Short melodic lines also crop up, as does the squealing sax of Mateen on this excellent tribute to the underappreciated icon of the jazz 'bone. Another tribute, "For Frank Lowe" has Mateen's tenor sax in full flight and no-time fury, preceded by bass beats in 12 and 14 countermanding the horns à la Ornette Coleman on a driving swing and Blum's block piano chords building in intensity of the rather contradictory titled "Patient Explorer." A very lengthy and diffuse free trombone/flute improvisation with Kugel's stomping drumming inserts here and there, a pizzicato bass solo, Mateen's clarinet, and the band building and holding concentrated overdrive harmonics is all a prelude for one of Swell's most memorable compositions "Box Set." Snippets of melodic shards, then solos, again resemble Coleman's approximate note hypotheses and loose/tight combo theorems, ending on a very high note. Best heard in the moment but captured accurately and fully on this excellent CD, Swell's time has arrived to join the ranks of the best players, leaders, and especially original composers in modern music.

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