John O'Gallagher and Jeff Williams: In a Whirlwind
The Anton Webern Project
The only possible place that Austrian composer/conductor Anton Webern (1883-1945) could find in the jazz tent would be with the avant-garde, smoking cigarettes in the French style while drinking cognac. Webern was a principle in the Second Viennese of School of composers who promoted the use of a totally chromatic musical expressionism without firm tonal centeror, atonality. This was morphed into the serial twelve-tone technique most famously by Webern teacher Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), influencing such composers as Alban Berg (1885-1935) and Hans Eisler (1898-1962).
O'Gallagher has long been associated with 12-tone music and takes the bull by the horns by adapting eight Webern pieces for his sextet plus voice. O'Gallagher is both mathematical and creative with his approach, staying close to Webern's melodic intention while trying to pull out the music's internal essence. The saxophonist states that the solos sections are either based on harmonies/trichord structures extracted from the twelve-tone rows each piece uses. The result is a musical extension of Miles Davis' 1970 augmented quintet featuring pianist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
Using the Webern material tempers the wildness of the music without attenuating it. Using the score as direction, O'Gallagher deftly composes for Margret Grebowicz's voice on "Three Songs" and "Seventh Ring." The opener, "Schnell," and "Five Pieces" grandly uses Russ Lossing's Hammond organ to great and almost greasy advantage. Guitarist Pete McCann channels Dom Minasi on "Quartet." Hardly music for the faint of heart, The Anton Webern Project contains a wealth of riches that pays off with multiple listens, bolstering the value of the often misunderstood jazz genre.
It may be a poor-man's explanation, but here it goes: bebop begat hard bop begat the freer post-bop. Free jazz emerged among them. What next? Jeff Williams' The Listener. The greater freedom of post bop compared to its predecessor is given more freedom, but not so much that the music descends into the ravenous particles of John Coltrane In Japan (Impulse!, 1973).
So, where does that leave us? Williams often programs solos against the bass alone or the bass and drums. The effect is like Ornette Coleman, circa early '60s, when Tomorrow Is The Question! (Atlantic, 1959) and The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959) were brand new and smoking.
The Listener is not merely a throwback to Coleman in the way that the Black Crowes is to the Faces and Rolling Stones; rather it is the acknowledgement and development of an idea after the white-heat of its creation has cooled. This music is a reconsideration employing a similar Coleman piano-less quartet, investigating the music fifty years later. Recorded May 7, 2012 at London's Vortex Jazz Club, The Listener surveys seven originals (strangely, none composed by alto saxophonist John O'Gallagher) and a single, transformed standard, captured before an appreciative audience. The songs are live performance length, allowing plenty of solo space, even for bassist John Hebért, who gives a yeoman's effort in support. His playing is both exciting and splendid.
O'Gallagher and trumpeter Duane Eubanks give their level Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry best, often over Williams' cacophony of skins and cymbals. Given the exceptional sonics and the creative camaraderie, The Listener turns into an intellectually muscular listen with predictably positive results.
Tracks and Personnel
The Anton Webern Project Tracks: Schnell; Three Songs; Five Pieces; Quartet; Seventh Ring; The Secret Code; Ways Going Over; All This World.
Personnel: John O'Gallagher: alto saxophone; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Pete McCann: guitar; Russ Lossing: Hammond organ, Rhodes; piano; Johannes Weidenmuller: bass; TYshawn Sorey: drums; Margret Grebowicz: voice.
Tracks: Beer and Water; Borderline; She Can't Be A Spy; Fez; Lament; Scrunge/Search Me; Slew Footed; Dedicated to You.
Personnel: Jeff Williams: drums; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; John O'Gallagher: alto saxophone; John Hebert: bass.