The Lament of Absalom

William Roper

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The Lament of Absalom Review

by Don Snowden

Avant-tuba -- now there's a concept, but as the opening conversation between William Roper and saxophonist Francis Wong on "Wednesday Afternoon, South Park" shows, Roper has his own voice and a light touch on an often elephantine instrument. Elliot Humberto Kavee's percussion rustles around behind their exchanges before an almost parade-like blues rhythm emerges near the end.

The Lament of Absalom is a musical interpretation of a very short Roper story about a Plains buffalo named Absalom, and this West Coast trio's outing is very much in the free improv zone leaning to the chamber sphere. Roper starts the title track melodically before Kavee's cello takes over and Wong, whose spare, often-spiritual playing makes him the anchor, enters with a bluesy tenor melody which his trio-mates build up around before the very episodic piece fades away.

That's pretty characteristic of the music here: the musicians listening to each other as they follow the meandering threads of impressionistic voyages build on atmosphere and texture. Roper is really into the tones and sonics of his unwieldy instrument, and rarely hits something like the sort of riff at the end of "Preparations." He usually favors upper-register blurts but the most memorable moment comes on "Belly Of The Beast," when his blurry low harmonics evoke Charlie Haden's arco bass whale sounds on "Old & New Dreams" and "Song For The Whales."

Roper's deep tones (inchoate cries, really) open "King Casper Meditates," setting up Kavee's cello and percussion and Wong's flute, generating loneliness amidst a lot of sliding tones. "Pilgrim's Dance" features Wong's ruminative clarinet musings before he takes it outside with fast swirls over the percussion and the cello at the end.

Kavee is fairly unobtrusive throughout, especially on the percussion end, and there's little to fault in the playing within the parameters of their musical objectives here. The pieces move organically through a succession of textures but there's a problem in that the predominant emotion is sadness bordering on melancholy.

Granted they're musically interpreting a story; a lament pretty lamentable by definition, especially the lament of a Plains buffalo existentially contemplating the decimation of his herd/tribe/natural context. But on a purely musical level, it would have been nice to hear some periodic change-ups from that dominant mood.