Ned Rothenberg

Tools of the Trade

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Tools of the Trade Review

by Steve Loewy

These two minor icons of free improvisation create a surprisingly tonal palette that is refreshingly devoid of cliché. While there is something decidedly conservative about several of these nine vignettes, there are no compromises to convention. Perusing Maroney's track-by-track commentary in the leaflet is eye-opening; for example, the pianist tells listeners that on the tune "Plane" he wedges a screwdriver under one of the pedals to turn off the dampers, while "Jug" incorporates a "60-beat cycle of 3:4:5 beats" and "Saw" uses mallets, bars, and a bottle. Ironically, perhaps, these props and techniques are used tastefully. Rothenberg can be hard-hitting and forceful, with streams of notes pouring forth from his horn with seeming ease, while Maroney scratches and comps with his usual eccentric plunges. There is no ground broken, at least in the results, but there are many moments of thoroughly enjoyable interplay where the saxophonist confidently stretches and pulls tones out of the air, while the pianist lays the backdrop. It is all a refreshing take on tradition, with logical phrasing the rule. As producer Robert D. Rusch cogently reflects in his liners, it is imbued with "a certain 'order and form' that...warm[s] the soul and energiz[es] the brain." Not the usual take on a recording of totally free improvisation.

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