The complex idea behind John Rapson’s Water and Blood, The Billy Higgins Improvisations
actually yields some simple and unassuming results. Rapson, whose trombone work has graced the California creative scene for twenty years, realized his idea to record drummer Billy Higgins’ solos and later overlay different players in a collaborative effort.
He worked the same concept on the 1994 recording Dances And Orations with Anthony Braxton. There as here, the overdubbed improvised music extends the spontaneous creations of a single player. When this project began in 2000, drummer Billy Higgins was dealing with failing kidneys and liver. His studio efforts, mostly in duo with bassist Roberto Miranda, were recorded with two simple precepts, pieces are to be three to five minutes and each shall be as different as possible from the next.
Rapson then assembled in four separate sessions to lay down improvised and written parts upon the solos he chose or constructed from Higgins’ improvisations. All these manipulations read elaborate and academically tedious, but the results are not. In fact, if it weren’t for the description in the liner notes, the seamless nature of this recording would have listeners believing this to be a marvelous group effort.
The instructions to create different patterns keep attention high throughout the sixty-five minutes of music presented. From moody tracks to “Pork For Popcorn” and “Dodging the Current” both circus/showtunes, the variations abound. Rapson adds horn arrangements here and there raising composed sections in opposition to the skilled improvising of, among many, Vinny Golia and Booby Bradford. They even take the music from acoustic to electric with some rocked-out guitar work by Steve Grismore.
Above it all (perhaps beneath it all) is the drumming of Mr. Billy Higgins. His dexterous swing and expert touch graces this recording throughout. Higgins was never a loud drummer, like Elvin or Art, but he made his snare known through a quick and discerning touch. This is a brilliant and very personal recording.
Personnel: Billy Higgins – Drums; Roberto Miranda – Bass; Bobby Bradford – Trumpet; Vinny Golia – Baritone Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Alto Flute; Kim Richmond – Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Alto Flute; Billy Roper – Tuba; Wayne Peet – Organ, Prepared Piano; John Rapson – Trombone; Bob Paredes – Clarinet, Alto Saxophone; Brent Sandy – Trumpet; Steve Grismore – Guitar; Jim Dreier – Percussion.