Avram Fefer’s debut release, Calling All Spirits, on Cadence Jazz Records is that rare pedigree of disc- one that threw me for a loop upon first listen. Everything (from the playing and arranging to engineering) caught my ears and refused to relinquish them until the disc had run its course. Upon numerous subsequent listens the effect was so inescapable that the album is now an early entry in my Best of 2000 list. Gushing praise of this nature may seem like an inadvisable way to start an objective review, but Fefer’s talents entreat such unqualified admiration.
His sophomore effort pales a little in comparison, but it’s still a thoroughly rewarding venture steeped in the vernacular of expertly rendered free-bop. Adding Steve Swell’s unctuous trombone to the group and trading original trio bassist Eric Revis for veteran string smith Wilber Morris the resulting quartet has a different dynamic, but is no less propulsive in impact. Though he doesn’t fit as seamlessly as his predecessor did on ...Spirits, Morris still makes a solid go of the tunes, laying down the anchoring ostinatos that flavor Fefer’s tunes with resiliency and aplomb. His facile and elastic counterpoint to the leader’s soaring tenor on “Loss (For Flo)” is but one of many indications of the wisdom in Fefer’s choice. Foni is a veritable Lon Chaney when it comes to shuffle beats; devising what seems like a limitless range of rhythmic guises. The drummer’s contributions on the opener range from in the pocket syncopations to barely audible cymbal scrapes and back. In each incarnation they set up an early and instantly convincing harbinger of his mammoth versatility. As on the first outing Fefer isn’t afraid to stretch out and track lengths allow broad space for group and solo improvisation. Cheating a little, he carries over three compositions from the first record to flesh out the second.
The ballad “Ripple” is taken at trio muster with Swell sitting out on the sidelines and its interesting to hear Fefer’s alto interact with the twining bowed surfaces of Morris’ strings and Foni’s cymbals. The frenetic “Cycle of Fits” centers on tight interplay between Fefer and Swell, for the most part sans rhythm instruments. The title track revolves around a dirge-like orbit demarcated by vibrato soaked cries, stringent bowed strings and gravelly brass commentary. Foni again adds a wealth of textural accents and colors brandishing his sticks like a mad painter ready to storm the parameters his canvas. Perhaps most telling, no matter how far the players stray from the thematic groundwork of each piece, underlying elements and a guiding groove still tether them structurally. It’s decidedly refreshing to hear a balance of freedom and formula so successfully reconciled. This is perhaps why Fefer’s music strikes such a resonating and winsome chord. He weds the best from both the free jazz and post-bop camps with alacrity and confidence and in the bargain comes up with a musical jargon that is wholly his own.
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Track Listing: Loss (For Flo)/ Ripple/ Cycle of Fits/ Lucille
Personnel: Avram Fefer- clarinet, tenor, alto & soprano saxophones; Steve Swell- trombone; Wilber Morris- bass; Igal Foni- drums. Recorded: January 11 & 12, 2001.