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For those who may approach Gerry Hemingway as an acolyte of Anthony Braxton and thus shy away from the often dense musical milieu put forth by Braxton and his ilk, The Whimbler is cause for intrigue and celebration. And for those who approach Hemmingway for exactly this association, don't turn away because the compositions aren't mathematical equations.
Working with the pliable and flexible combo of Ellery Eskelin (tenor), Herb Robertson (trumpet), and Mark Helias (basses), Hemmingway has crafted nine compositions that fulfill some of the expected firepower of this front line combination. These frameworks at once direct the flow of traffic and lend the music purpose, still leaving the players free to follow their muse. Even Hemingway's trap set reflects this more centered avant approach, forgoing a massive kit for a more tightly knit traditional set with a few extra surprises.
Highlights abound, and tracks such as "The Current Underneath reveal the beauty contained herein. Through shifting combinations of tones and colors, Hemingway's drums and Helias' electric bass lay the way for Eskelin and Robertson. The always inventive Eskelin, in complete command of his instrument, opens up the song with notes that spill out on top of one another like a slow-flowing brook.
Coming out of a number of beautiful unison lines that restate themes with Helias wandering underneath, Robertson emerges from elongated tones to take the lead. While his trumpet is usually associated with avant fire, here he works with freedom in a more restrained tone. Capable of sounding akin to a dark robust hybrid of Roy Campbell and Clifford Brown, his burnished sound skims the top of the beat, slyly working its way through the mood.
Helias is really the glue throughout the album. Although by no means a stationary rock to tether everyone else, he often provides the pulse or stated pulse of a song. Regularly carrying melodies and grooves and providing a counterpoint to the horns, Helias is a force both on acoustic and electric bases, serving as an effective lynchpin.
The album flows through many colors, like the free bop of "Pumbum and the dance-like bass line of "Kimkwella (with call-and-response horns sparring above). And of course there are the expected moments of abandon, like on "Spektiv, where Robertson works his way up his horn to a blistering crescendo, leading the way for Hemingway to leap into his own percussive solo. But the key to The Whimbler is that it never loses its identity. Whether strictly written or free and occupying all points in between, the album retains an identity formed by its collective spirit.
The Whimbler is a standout album from 2005 and should not be missed for those listening on the fringes of bop or all the way through free improvisation. Bridging the gaps and presenting a standout album, Hemingway has done a spectacular job.
Track Listing: Waitin; Rallier; The Current Underneath; Pumbum; The Whimbler; Spektiv; Curlycue; In The Distance; Kimkwella.
Personnel: Gerry Hemingway: drums; Herb Robertson: trumpet; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Mark Helias: acoustic and electric bass.