CIMP is easily the most prolific creative improvised music label in existence. They’ve issued one hundred releases in just over three years and their fecundity shows no signs of slowing down. One of the most commendable aspects of their catalog is that alongside the expected numbers of discs by musicians whose names are familiar to followers of the music there are also a host of titles featuring lesser known players who are often just as fascinating. Chris Lawrence can be counted among this latter category and his debut recording as a leader points a firm finger at what many of us have been missing in our ignorance of his considerable talents.
I must admit that when I first glimpsed at the personnel for this date my eyes were drawn like magnets to the team of Morris and Charles and Lawrence’s name was registered only as an afterthought. The bassist and drummer have served together on a handful of CIMP dates and their fruitful associations are documented on several other labels as well. Their pairing always seems to result in a rhythmic canvas smeared with resplendent textures and hues and their teamwork serves particularly well as an underpinning for a lone horn soloist. Lawrence recognizes his good fortune from the onset and his arrangements allow plenty of temporal terrain for his partners’ garrulous locutions. His compositions suggest the strong influence of Ornette Coleman and often favor protracted solo passages sandwiched between loose ensemble segues with lots of tricky starts and stops. His alto tone is similarly touched by Coleman’s intoxicating spell and his phrasing often works within an intriguing blues-based lyricism.
“Shake Up the World” starts thing off right with a brief, but closely packed solo invocation from Morris before Charles’s bustling drums gush across the bassist’s febrile lines. Lawrence intones a loose thematic phrase and the three are off in a gust of glorious improvisation. Both Charles and Morris chime in with scintillating extended solos later in the piece that point again to their primacy on their instruments. Lawrence’s alto adopts a more pensive voice on “Been There” and piece recalls the lonely repose of one lost in recurring memories of the past. On “Villa Fortuna” he reaches into the alto’s upper register coaxing a wiry, bouncing sonority from his reed while dancing bright circles of melody across pulsing bass and drums. “The Clock” is an exercise in carefully devised tension and release and Lawrence seizes the opportunity to vouch for the advanced agility he’s achieved on his horn. Charles’ tribal-tinged call-and-response patterns form the basis for “Over Manhattan” and Lawrence is again in a restrained mood. “Lifestyles” is almost ballad-like in delivery and Lawrence’s gentle lyricism is in full bloom throughout the piece’s brief duration. “Slant Flying” is the opposite, brimming with agitated density and fast clipped stuttering lines.
Considering the creative magnitude of the music contained on this disc it’s difficult to reconcile that this is Lawrence’s inaugural effort. The reality that the trio has been playing together for over thirteen years dispels some of the awe associated with the uncanny cohesion they generate, but it also points to the regrettable fact that it has taken them so long to find their way to the studio. CIMP’s decision to take a chance on Lawrence is not only reflective of their ongoing mission to document this music in its manifold forms, it’s proof again of that sometimes the most satisfying treasures can come in unfamiliar packages.
Personnel: Claude Lawrence- alto saxophone; Wilbur Morris- bass; Denis Charles- drums.