Gerd Dudek: 'Smatter (2002)
Wow! If Evan Parker's Lines Burnt in Light was an extraordinary debut for his new Psi label then this, the label's second release, is even more of a cause for celebration. According to Parker's sleeve note, this is the first ever release under Dudek's own name. (Yes, he has had joint creditsfor instance the trio albums on Konnexbut not sole credit.) Anyway, be that as it may, this album is both surprising and wonderful. Whatever preconceptions one may have about Dudek from his work with Globe Unity Orchestra or Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra are blown away. All six tracks are other people's compositions, including three by Kenny Wheeler. (Despite his exalted status as a player and leader, Wheeler's most lasting legacy may well prove to be his compositions.) From Dudek's first notes on the opener, Wheeler's "Phase Three," his playing is rich-toned, melodic and emotionally charged. While those are qualities he has displayed elsewhere, the straight-ahead jazz context here reveals them in a new light.
Dudek recorded with those stalwarts of the British scene, John Parricelli, Chris Laurence and Tony Levin, not the most obvious choice of bands for him. They largely act as a rhythm section (and a mighty fine one), allowing Dudek to stay in the solo spotlight, with Parricelli's guitar repeatedly grabbing the attention for its understated yet highly inventive support.
Most remarkable of the pieces here is the seventeen-minute "Body & Soul." My heart simultaneously sinks and flutters whenever I see it listed on a saxophonist's album. What can they find to do or say that is fresh and original without being just quirky? Dudek's version is a tour-de-force with few points of comparison. It opens with ensemble playing that is as close as the album gets to free playing (i.e. not very!) before Dudek hits his stride with a sustained, flowing Coltranesque solo that teases out the strands of the theme. This leads into an unaccompanied rapid-fire sax interlude, more in keeping with preconceptions of Dudek's playing, before the dramatic reappearance of the band for a storming climax.
This music was recorded as long ago as February 1998. The fact that it has remained unreleased for four years is inexplicable; we owe Parker and Psi a debt of gratitude. For Evan Parker to release another saxophonist on his own label speaks volumes; Dudek more than lives up to that vote of confidence.
Track Listing: Phase Three; Ma Bel; 'Smatter; Body & Soul; By George; The Peacocks
Personnel: Gerd Dudek, tenor & soprano saxophones; John Parricelli, guitar; Chris Laurence, bass; Tony Levin, drums
Record Label: Psi