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Walter Shed 5tet: Blue Plate Tectonics

Robert Spencer By

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Pittsburgh's Water Shed 5tet is your standard sax-guitar-cello-bass-drums unit. Their music is a mélange adultère de tout, not only because of the original lineup, but because the players are given to sudden and unexpected moves like electric guitarist Daryl Fleming's quote of "Dixie" in the approach to a Yes-flavored crescendo in "Braque." Blue Plate Tectonics, their second release, is a stormy ride into uncharted territory. Always exciting, always compellingly executed, this music slashes, shreds, croons, weeps-abrupt as a summer squall textures and moods are created, blended, transmuted. There are sixteen tracks, nine of which are under two minutes long. Never do the players allow the drama to wane.

One particularly exciting feature of this music is that it could only have been made by people who have heard and digested not only Jimi Hendrix and the maligned late recordings of Miles Davis, but also Anthony Braxton, Charles Gayle, and Evan Parker. Blue Plate Tectonics is one of the few discs I've heard recently that truly seems to promise a new direction in "jazz," or music, that will unite and synthesize the two sides of the great divide that opened up in the late Sixties and Seventies: avant-garde and fusion. Each of the five musicians here plays a role integral to the presentation; nobody simply or solely keeps time in shades of both Harmolodics and Mr. Braxton's pulse-track musics. Of course, "avant-fusion" is out there, in varying degrees of success. The Water Shed 5tet is a particularly splendid example of what can be accomplished in this area.

"Hedona", the opening track, and other bits like the brief "Homage to Dario Argento" have Fleming and saxophonist Ben Opie wailing furiously — Gayle meets Hendrix. On the other hand, all the members of the quintet (Erin Snyder on cello, Jeff Stringer on bass, and Jay Matula on drums) play with a majestically collected calm on the disc's longest track, "The Sun Setting in the East." Opie's unaccompanied introduction here is particularly poignant.

The interplay between reed and cello are delicious throughout the disc, especially on "Homage to Doris Wishman." Opie is a delightful player; his soprano on the skiffly "The Perfect Man" is thoroughly self-possessed no matter how speedy the tempo gets. On that number and others, Fleming contributes heavy electric chords, but on the next track, "Mattress on the Basement," he is as straight-faced and folksy as can be. And then it's back to the grunge for "blues."

Trouble is, jazz radio airplay seems so stratified and market-oriented these days that Blue Plate Tectonics will probably not get the attention it deserves. But anyone interested in the non-Wynton future of jazz, as well as in truly adventurous and creative music, should not miss this disc.


Title: Blue Plate Tectonics | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Rastascan Records


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