David Haney: Blue Flint Girl and Live from Yoshi's
David Haney Trio
The David Haney Collective
The center of the jazz world is still considered to be Gotham, even though one can pretty much do whatever one wants musically in any location (witness the recent relocation of Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten to Austin, Texas). The West Coast doesn't quite have the same categorical sway it once did, but being an improviser in the Pacific region can imply a certain level of obscurity. Raised in Calgary, Alberta, pianist-composer David Haney is currently based in Portland, Oregon, which, though not particularly well known as a hotbed of creative improvisation, put him in proximity to collaborators like trombonist Julian Priester and bassists Michael Bisio and Buell Neidlinger. While not hugely well-represented in the common threads of discography, quietly working and composing in projects ranging from open music to pianist Herbie Nichols' songbook have netted Haney a series of discs on the Cadence Jazz and CIMP labels.
Haney has a penchant for unusual combinationssuch as piano and trombone duets with Priesterand Blue Flint Girl is no exception, placing him in a trio with bassists Bisio and Adam Lane. On the surface, this combo might look like Andrew Hill's Smokestack without a drummer and the titles evoke images of punchy standard fare. However, Blue Flint Girl operates in a sphere that's decidedly avant-garde, Haney's glassy and refractive progressions weaving an ambiguous romance with the meathooks of thwacking pizzicato and horsehair-swirling arco. There's a crisp stomp in "Jeanaye" that's supported by queasy drones in an exercise of off-balance subversion, snatches of pianist Jaki Byard rendered coolly distant in a dance between poles. "A Good Friend" is a solo piano exercise, wandering into quixotic little eddies that often counter forward motion.
In a number of instances, this trio does seem organized specifically around the presence and action of strings, bowed and plucked paintings in the opening "Mr. Billion" setting most of the stage as Haney plots with pianistic chiaroscuro. Ran Blake creeps in on "Little Hat Stomp," Haney's footfalls stabbing and slightly out of step with the bassists' syrupy plods. Adding to the distance and distraction of Haney's approach (which seems to be endemic and is strangely captivating) is the fact that the piano is recorded at a considerably lower level than the basses, their painterly expression taking up most of the foreground. Though the interplay between the three is clearly even-handed, Haney is often sonically buried by how his compatriots are rendered. If one can get past slight imbalance, the genuine strangeness of Blue Flint Girl makes for a rewarding listen.
Live from Yoshi's presents Haney in a super-group of sorts, recorded in April 2000 at the venerable Oakland jazz spot. Here, the pianist is joined by Lane and drummer Mat Marucci, saxophonists John Tchicai (who was then living in Sacramento) and Rob Scheps and guitarist Duck Baker. The program consists of five originals as well as renditions of trombonist Roswell Rudd's "Prelude to a Lease" and saxophonist Jim Pepper's "Water." The first thing to get out of the way is the fact that the recording quality is pretty dire, with Lane and Baker rarely audible and both piano and drums sounding quite distant at regular points. If Haney's touch isn't exactly well served by a mix that puts him behind two rather viscous bassists, it can be crippled by the low fidelity of this set (the volume should be pinned), unfortunate because he clearly has a wealth of ideas and an intriguing approach.
Getting past that hurdle, though, the music itself is full of virile rustle and a powerful raggedness. Tchicai's choppy tenor haranguing is in good form across the board and this set confirms that Marucci is one of the most underrated free-bop drummers on the West Coast, much less anywhere else. One can feel the roiling of bass, piano and guitar as collective emotional support for the Marucci-Tchicai juggernaut that erupts out of "Coyote Goes to Toronto," the tenor saxophonist hell bent for leather in a husky buzzsaw that seems light years away from his quirky alto loquaciousness of yore.
There's clearly a punch to the alternately deep sway and pointillism of "Jupiter on Tip Toes," bass and drums presenting a devilish swagger as Haney yaws from scattershot quips to lush, arching modality. "Prelude to a Lease" is very inspired by composers like Herbie Nichols and Steve Lacy, with a decidedly Latin lilt and is a chance for Scheps to shine. Though his improvisation is piled high with arpeggios, Scheps does get into some Lacy-like trills and with very thick support from the rhythm section, it's an exciting string of puckered choruses. The ensuing behind-the-beat fantasia from Haney is almost combative in its antithesis and is yet another example of why this highly individual pianist should be better recorded.
Tracks and Personnel
Blue Flint Girl
Tracks: Mr. Billion; Little Hat Stomp; Blue Flint Girl; Coyote Learns to Whistle; Valse Moderne; Mondo Topless; Jeanaye; A Good Friend; Jupiter on Tip Toes.
Personnel: David Haney: piano; Mike Bisio: bass; Adam Lane: bass.
Live from Yoshi's
Tracks: Clorophorm/Water; Cheetah Cha Cha; Coyote Goes to Toronto/Antephorm; Jupiter on Tip Toes; Prelude to a Lease; In the Desert.
Personnel: David Haney: piano; Adam Lane: bass; Mat Marucci: drums; Duck Baker: guitar; John Tchicai: tenor saxophone; Rob Scheps: soprano saxophone.