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Marshall Travis Wood: Bodywork

Robert Spencer By

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Marshall Travis Wood is John Marshall, the accomplished British drum veteran, Theo Travis on tenor, soprano, and flute, and Mark Wood on guitars. Bodywork was formed when a bassist didn't show up for their recording date, and the three others spent the time improvising. Instead of trotting out the standards, they threw away the net altogether, and fashioned a collection of spacey and intriguing miniatures with no predetermination at all: no preset tempos, chord changes, melodies, anything. According to Travis, "One hundred percent of our attention was given to what the others were playing and that is why the interaction is so complete."

It is, too. Marshall, Travis and Wood listen to each other so well, and adapt so quickly, that the listener is hard-put to recognize these tracks as free improvisations at all. From the beginning to the end they play with intensity and good humor, but with nary a hint that they're making up every bit of it as they go along except for a general tendency for these pieces, as marvelously varied as they are, to share the architectonic of Marshall and Wood laying down a groove for Travis to float over. And just once, on "Brainstorming," they seem just to be all shouting together. But there is no premium on interaction. "Gonzo," for example, is a lurching mechanistic groove containing some split-second interplay between Travis' tenor (honking and soaring like Sonny) and the other two.

The other side of the coin are the shimmering soprano workouts of "Eyes like the sun," the eerie and aptly-named "Freefall," and the even-more aptly-named "Quiet." Travis is clearly highly accomplished on all his instruments (to wit, his muezzin-calling tenor on "Ozymandias" and edgy lyricism on the title track), and combined with the otherworldly ambiance of Wood's guitar work (gorgeous on "Olinda" and the other quiet tracks), these tracks trip with the best of them. On "Olinda" his flute (?) is a bit over-processed, but this track is the only one that sounds at all synthetic. "Sand dance" has him playing it straight, setting off delicate flutters over Wood's ostinato.

Marshall has played in settings as varied as John McLaughlin and Sarah Vaughan. You don't have to look too far for evidence of his versatility on this disc: on "Ozymandias" he is everywhere, a la Elvin Jones on Coltrane's "Welcome"; on the songs that shimmer, he is largely responsible for the atmosphere. On "Gonzo" and the more subdued groove of "B-line" he is rock-solid. Always he sets down foundations with extraordinary care and precision.

There is one other track: "No hard angel," which is the only one that doesn't seem to go much of anywhere. Otherwise this is a stunning example of the possibilities, lyrical and melodic, of free improvisation in the hands of top-fight musicians. Recommended.


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