Precisely put Test is four improvisers who perform at the pinnacles of guerrilla jazz. They hit hard and fast leaving a wake of gawking mouths and grinning faces among audiences with a taste for the freer, less inhibited realms of improvised music. This year has signaled a break in the quartet’s underground status and has seen the number of full-length recordings documenting their work quadruple. Previously limited to now legendary stints in the subway stations of New York the foursome has also taken to extensive touring. The two pieces which comprise this disc were recorded on one such tour. Though the pieces are differentiated lexically by only their points of origin their cursory titles hide a wealth of barnstorming creativity.
One of the striking aspects about the players is the staggering sense of equilibrium they maintain even when embroiled in the most heated of group improvisations. The levels of controlled cacophony they attain are astounding not only for their boundless energy, but also for the strength of underlying unity that characterizes their conception. Each man is an integral voice and personal autonomy is evenly balanced with group dynamics- there is no discernible leader, all are equal participants. This philosophy of purpose is demonstrated musically in the interactions between horns and rhythm and particularly between Carter and Mateen. It’s a rarity for one to be heard without the other and the interconnectedness of their lines recalls a Siamese twins-like closeness.
“Baltimore 2” a collective improvisation that unfurls for nearly an hour is longest piece thus released by the group and is boggling both in breadth and sustained intensity. The voyage begins with fluttering unison flutes which twist acrobatic lines across one another over bowed bass and pliant percussion. Mateen switches to loquacious clarinet and Carter hefts his trumpet for a string of blissfully slurred phrases. Heyner’s broad bowed swathes signal a ruminative passage echoed by the two horns. Bruno is almost tidal in his precision building up waves of tension which wash forth from his kit in tightly controlled bursts. Mateen and Carter both reach for their saxophones and enter into an extended dialogue which starts out tender, but quickly builds steam with the advent of more ecstatic release. After an athletic marathon of extended blowing the two horns finally apply the brakes and all four players engage in a conversation of muted tones and harmonics. The piece ends abruptly with raucous cheers from both the band and the audience.
Protracted squeals announce the birth of “Boston 2.” Carter and Mateen launch headlong into another sprawling discourse punctuated by Bruno’s maniacal howls from behind his drum set. Soon everyone in attendance joins in the vociferous uproar. The second piece is in many ways like a condensed version of the first excising the quieter passages and cramming all the intensity into a quarter of the time. The tempo builds subtly in sonority thanks to Bruno’s continually effervescent drums before the horns take things out in a riotous explosion. Overall this disc is an exhausting, but thoroughly satisfying listen and one that is worth far more than the price of admission. Hopefully the proliferation of Test releases will continue at the current accelerated pace.
Track Listing: Baltimore 2, Boston 2. Recorded on tour 1998.
Personnel: Sabir Mateen- clarinet, flute, alto & tenor saxophones, Daniel Carter- flute, alto & tenor saxophones, trumpet, Matthew Heyner- double bass, Tom Bruno- drums.