British bassist Nick Stephens has always been a prominent mainstay within Europe's avant-jazz landscape. His affiliation with legendary British free-jazz pioneer and drummer John Stevens looms as one component of the bassist's overall dynamic and legacy. This rendition of Stephen's Calling Signals band was recorded live in 2009 during a brief tour of the U.K., and unites a prominent Scandinavian contingent of reedman Frode Gjerstad and drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love.
The extended tracks enable the band to stretch, reinvent, and generate a moveable aural feast. Microtonal, asymmetrical and revolving like a jagged loop with fractured incisions and expansive four-way dialogues, the music also contains an abundance of dips and spikes, restarts, pauses and thematic regenerations.
Performing on clarinet, Gjerstad nips and claws his way through the beginning of "Nine Souls," and slashes a path atop Stephens' booming, pliant lines and Nilssen-Love's cymbal textures and frothy drum grooves. Trumpeter Jon Corbett follows suit as the band progressively raises the pitch amid jagged detours and laconic doses of humor and wit.
The quartet subdivides into low-key duet interludes, the improvisational aspects a principle factor, although the musical approach and metrics appear to have been given some upfront thought. It's not about rambling or superfluous instances of entwining workouts, equally noticeable on "Five Souls (plus the barman)," which rotates between a fast-paced burner impetus with undulating rhythmic flows, and medium-tempo exchanges. Simply put, the band effectively takes care of business sans any mysterious agendas or trivialities.
Nine Souls; Five Souls (plus the barman).
Frode Gjerstad: clarinets, alto saxophone; Jon Corbett: trumpet, valve trombone, conch; Nick Stephens: double bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: percussion.