Two trio albums released recently on vibraphonist and percussionist Kevin Norton's Barking Hoop label take tradition and render it slightly off kilter.
Norton's group Instinctual Eye eschews the typical collection of three- to ten-minute tracks in favor of a pair of long ones on their new album Born In Brooklyn, recorded live at Barbès one year ago. A smart move considering improvised music thrives on those grand passages of time; building and contrasting with a past and gathering momentum that gives way to the ultimate parlance. Since 42 minutes of freely emitting instruments could give way to boredom, concentration takes on a pivotal role in the unraveling of the panoptic profusion of Norton, alto saxophonist/ clarinetist Frode Gjerstad and bassist Nick Stephens, making the final discovery that much more vivid.
Edging out cautiously with bold sounds, they begin the album like three oversized aliens timidly emerging onto new frontiers. Norton bangs out strongly glowing vibes notes, while Gjerstad squawks amicably on clarinet and Stephens alternates between strides and gallops on bass. While individual development aids in the group sound, it is that eventual convergence that we hold out for. Tones clash jarringly to form extreme textures woven through with thick fibers of low moaning bass drones culled by the bow. Glimmering vibes and percussion at once fluttery and choppy mingle in a choreography that envisages arching kicks and karate twirls. Tempo progresses in natural undulations, allowing for energy conservation as the group meanders from fury to bouts of quiet, looming intensity that erupts into an amalgamation of volatility.
After 30 years playing in New York, guitarist Billy Stein has released his debut album, Hybrids, with bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Rashid Bakr. Stein plays with a soft fluidity, picking out a series of notes that mingle together in sustain. His harmonics ring out between gentle chord ascensions, soon enraptured by the hammer of Radding's bass. Expertly plugging through a bass line foundation for his mates, or contrasting Stein's rock-tinged passages on "Right On The Line with rubbery, classical groans brought forth by bow, Radding offers an important balance.
Guitarist and bassist play delicately on "Purple Nova , each traversing his own introspective path as Bakr develops a beguiling terrain spotted by snippets of snare and cymbal taps. The drummer infuses the group with a skilled vivaciousness that keeps the sound perennially fresh and the energy alive.
All tracks are composed by Stein, who infuses the typical guitar trio sound with occasional irregularities. At just over three minutes long, the gorgeous "Epilogue dwells in a dim atmosphere introduced by Radding's bass intro. Bakr slashes shards of metallics which Stein seems to reflect with droning effects. He treats space with a great deal of respect and though he has some trouble maintaining a fully engaging structure, especially on the aptly named "How Long? which seems to ramble languidly for a little too long, his work and playing shine in the trio setting.
Tracks and Personnel
Born in Brooklyn
Tracks: itzcarraldo's Beautiful Nonsequitir; Born In Brooklyn.
Personnel: Kevin Norton: vibraphone, percussion; Frode Gjerstad: alto saxophone, clarinet; Nick Stephens: bass.
Tracks: Juice; Outside Burn; Purple Nova; Right on the Line; Manhattan Moon; How Long?; Hybrids; Epilogue.
Personnel: Billy Stein: guitar; Reuben Radding: bass; Rashid Bakr: drums.