3.For the Bees
Jim Lewis (trumpet), Heather Saumer (trombone), Peter Lutek (tenor sax,
clarinet), Tania Gill (piano, melodica), Rob Clutton (bass), Mark
Recorded August 13-15, 2016. Canterbury Music Company, Toronto.
Attentive readers will have noticed the unusually short playing
time of this CD. To those for whom free jazz is anathema, 28 minutes
and 52 seconds will seem too long. Though I am by no means devoted
to free jazz (it forms only a small part of my musical diet) I felt
that I could happily have listened to more, because there is here
more variety than is always the case on free jazz recordings (and
some of the tracks clearly incorporate a good deal of composed material)
and because all 8 tracks are actually very economical – in all of
them the temptation of prolixity that seduces many free jazz ensembles
is resisted. The opening track is the headiest, most hectically free
track, driven hard by Segger’s drums, though even here one senses
definite agreement on a framework upon and around which the improvisation
takes place. ‘Lift Off’ is followed by the very different ‘Cluttertone
News’, which has some gorgeous harmonies and a kind of regretful languor
that is almost-Ellingtonian in feel. Bassist Rob Clutton does much
to underpin proceedings on this track.
On ‘For the Bees’ it is, in jazz terms, the bebop era which
comes to mind; indeed, if one must have labels, one might affix ‘freebop’
to this intriguing piece, angular at times, sensuous at others; though
only four minutes and fifteen seconds long, this is a track into which
much musical invention is compressed; as well as the jazz affiliations
those with ‘classical ears’ might also think of Bartok and even Ligeti.
‘One Not’ consists of sustained B flats from the horns, overlapping
one another in ways that aren’t, so far as I can discern, ‘scripted’
in detail. The result is a kind of ultraslow minimalism which is oddly
beautiful. The last track, ‘Bassline’ opens with heavily stuttering
rhythm which morphs into an awkward stiff-legged march and, finally,
into a raucous free blow-out which takes us (in the way that the last
– incomplete – sentence of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake leads the
reader back to where (s)he started) back to where we started on track
1, giving the album a perfect circularity.
I have so far made no mention of two other points along the perfect
circle of Lift Off’s journey – one of them being the shortest track
‘…’ (only 1:33 in length). The track’s title is, I presume, an ellipsis.
We might understand this title in at least two ways (a) is it a suggestion
that this fifth track functions like an ellipsis in the larger narrative
of Lift Off ? or (b) does it refer in a more general sense to the
convention of the ellipsis and why it is used?, thus raising questions
about why connecting words (notes) might be suppressed or omitted.
The second seems to be the more fruitful way of reading the title.
The piece begins with Segger tapping out some single touches in the
cymbal and then with single strokes from Segger, on cymbal or drum
rim, continuing there are contributions of single notes from other
members of the sextet. The effect is of a series of ‘points’, akin
to what one finds in the work of pointillist painters such as Georges
Seurat or indeed, nearer to our own time, the American artist Jerry
Wilkerson (1943-2007) – paintings which are built up from single dots
of pure colour, it being left to the viewer’s eye to ‘mix’ the colours
into the completed image. The other hitherto-unmentioned track is
‘Slow Motion’, which has a kind of jaunty slightly off-centre swing,
irregularly interrupted by disruptive bursts of sound (at one point
sounding like a kind of instrumentally-created static); the ‘swing’
theme just about survives the onslaughts. I found this the least satisfying
track on the album.
On the whole, however, Lift Off is a rewarding listen, the work of imaginative
and technically secure musicians. I wish, though, that we could have
heard rather more of pianist Tania Gill, whose quartet album Bolger
Station (Barnyard Records, 2011) is very fine indeed. Mark Segger’s
is, I guess, the directing mind behind Lift Off, cresting thought-provoking
music along with his fellow musicians. I can’t remember ever hearing
any of Segger’s work before, though I note that this is the sextet’s
second album. A little online research tells me that Segger was born
in Edmonton and studied at McEwan University in that city before completing
a Bachelor of Music at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish
and a Master of Music degree at Toronto University. He now works in
a variety of contexts on the jazz and creative music scenes in Toronto.
My first exposure to his work has been an enjoyable and rewarding
one, and I hope to hear more of it.