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BassDrumBone and the New Haven Jazz Renaissance

Daniel Barbiero By

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Unlike Anderson and Helias, New Haven native Hemingway had always been there, more or less. In winter, 1973, he briefly went to Boston to the Berklee College of Music but dropped out; he returned to New Haven, where he gave drum lessons, played club dates and gave a series of solo concerts each of which was dedicated to a significant figure in the history of jazz drumming. He met Davis through an ad he placed in Rolling Stone when he was looking for a pianist and bassist and played in the collective group Advent, which in addition to Hemingway and Davis included George Lewis, saxophonist Hal Lewis, and bassist Wes Brown. It was through Davis that Hemingway met Helias in 1974, when they jammed together at Davis's invitation; with the addition of vibraphonist Jay Hoggard, they eventually became the Anthony Davis Quartet. Hemingway subsequently met Anderson through Dresser. Before they formed their trio, the two worked together on one of Hemingway's early large-scale compositions, a series of eight duets inspired by the paintings of David Pallian, which Hemingway had composed for varied instruments.



Anderson, Helias and Hemingway first played alone together as a group in autumn, 1977, at a concert Hemingway performed for his students at New Haven's Educational Center for the Arts. Hemingway put the group together for the occasion, and there hadn't been much in the way of preparation—just a rehearsal a few hours before the performance. But the three seem to have established a robust synergy right away. They went on to play at least one other early, local concert, in Yale's Battell Chapel—the place where The Sam Rivers Trio had played and recorded the legendary "Hues of Melanin" suite in November, 1973.

The group first appeared on record in 1978 with the track "Speak Brother," a cut included on Hemingway's Kwambe LP, the first release on his Auricle label. This was followed by a full-length, self-titled LP on Auricle—the label's second release.

OAHSPE the album was recorded in November, 1978 at the Educational Center for Arts. On all five tracks, Anderson, Helias and Hemingway demonstrate a deep congruence and an excellent musical chemistry. The three share a musical language rooted in the swing and swagger of post-bop that's further informed by a modular sense of structure and a pronounced sensitivity to color. The pieces go beyond the standard head-improvisation-head format to intersperse composed passages with more open passages of collective improvisation or soloing; the composed segments are frequently built up from short, repeating melodic cells for trombone and double bass that are staggered or layered in unison. Although all three musicians get solo space, the overall approach is to create a collective sound—it's literally woven into the texture, which tends toward a polyphonic braid of individual yet commensurate voices. Having the two melodic instruments overlap at the lower end of the pitch range makes for subtle color shadings; all of it is undergirded by Hemingway's always-pertinent drumming. For a debut it's an assured recording, and one that holds up well nearly forty years later.

"Gyro" opens the recording with a swinging unison melody for bass and trombone, and then decomposes into repeating cells for separate voices, breaking into solo spots for Hemingway's drums and an Anderson solo over broken walking basslines. "Albert," a homage to Albert Ayler, features a keening Anderson solo that's bluesy and abstract at the same time. "Beef" has Hemingway briefly switch to vibes for a three-voiced counterpoint of interlaced short phrases, and then moves into a smeary trombone solo over walking basslines. The asymmetrical lines and implicit march rhythms of "Sextant" seem to have been inspired by Anthony Braxton's work of the mid-1970s. The final track, "Gibberish," constructs a whole out of fragmented bits of swing, free improvisation, and extended techniques for bowed bass and trombone.

Not long after the album came out, the group dropped its name. It may simply have been because it was hard to pronounce, as Hemingway told Graham Lock, or it may have been—as the BassDrumBone website relates—because a California group dedicated to Newbrough's book, with which the trio had no connection other than the coincidence of name, claimed that Jehovah, with whom they were in contact, suggested that the musical OAHSPE change its name to "Snowflake." (And what is one to do, when music criticism comes from such a high authority?) Either way, the group's second album, issued in 1984, came out under Anderson's name, while subsequent releases have been under the BassDrumBone name.

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