David Taylor-Steve Swell Quintet: Not Just... (2005)
The hunt for novel instrument groupings is especially hard these days. Between the fields of classical and improvised music, virtually every conceivable sort of aggregate has been attempted at one time or another. Co-chaired by two trombones and rounded out by a trio of strings, this quintet may very well have precedent. But these five cunning musical minds in league would rather be damned than play it safe. This sort of lob it and see if it sticks strategy is CIMP's unwritten credo, one that's yielded far more success stories than debacles. This disc sits comfortably in the former category.
Taylor and Swell set up shop at opposite ends of the stereo spectrum, with the strings occupying the center of the sonic ham salad sandwich. All are preserved marvelously by engineer Marc Rusch's lean and pristine recording, particularly the horns, whose lubricious lines sound as if they're mere inches away from the mics. The hard-stomping chamber swing of "ETA-Now packs in plenty of action as the strings burn through a bucket full of rosin and the band subdivides into a series of team-ups bracketed by a staccato head. Filiano anchors with snapping pizzicato while first Taylor, then Swell, then the two together have loquacious says. The sparks are particularly plentiful on an abrading exchange between Bang and Ulrich.
Nimble baton-passing is norm on other tracks as well. Rising and waning harmonics bracket the action in wave-shaped drones on the relatively brief collectively improvised "SOFAR channel, sounding like deep sea sonar blips. Bang sits out on "String Theory, squaring the count between strings and brass but hardly creating a safe equilibrium. His consistent willingness to defer is a refreshing departure from his usual flamboyant showmanship and his bow exercises a keen precision along with welcome restraint.
Next up, nods to Sun Ra with a space-themed medley, "3 Moon Skies are Not Rare/Interplanetary Stroll Time, a sectional track that pivots on a groove-pregnant bass improvisation by Filiano, shadowed by Ulrich. Bang's "Down Home involves a cross-hatch of needlepoint pizzicato from the strings and metal-on-metal percussion from Swell. The piece revolves around one of the violinist's funky Eastern-tinged motifs, but lists a bit thanks to a weave that isn't quite water tight.
A threesome of Taylor-penned pieces closes out the set, starting with the dour "Vamps Dance. The mood piece turns playful when the brass wrest control from the strings and the composer holds forth with his raspberry-sounding muted horn, but returns to somber straits at the close. "Lament doesn't lighten the mood much either with more stippled and sawing string work joined to burbling brass and a particularly grating ostinato by Bang.
Reflecting Taylor's oddball sense of humor, "Hoppy Daze is Here Again serves up a quirky ode to that cathode ray cowboy Hopalong Cassidy that recalls the clip-clop canter of something off Sonny Rollins' Way Out West. Their makeup may be unconventional and the merger of sonorities seemingly incongruous on the surface, but these five players ensure that their vessel is completely seaworthy, invested with the speed and efficiency of a streamlined spinnakered sloop.
Track Listing: ETA-Now; SOFAR channel; String Theory; 3 Moon Skies Are Not Rare/Interplanetary Stroll Time; NOT JUST; Down Home; Vamps Dance; Lament; Hoppy Daze is Here Again.
Personnel: David Taylor: bass trombone; Steve Swell: trombone; Billy Bang: violin; Thomas Ulrich: cello; Ken Filiano: bass. Recorded: January 5 & 6, 2005, Rossie, NY.