It is hard to think of a more complete trombone player on the scene than Steve Swell. While a go-to sideman for the likes of William Parker, Ken Vandermark, Jason Kao Hwang and Tim Daisy, he has also amassed a significant body of work over the years in his own right. Although his output has featured compositions of increasing sophistication, Swell remains a committed and accomplished improviser, and that is the turf he stakes out on the eleven extemporized studio selections on Brain In A Dish, with the help of pianist/organist Robert Boston and drummer Michael Vatcher.
Swell calls on the entire range of his instrument from whinnying heights to the gruffest bottom end. He blusters, whispers, protests and entreats, sometimes all in the same supple and expressive figures. In Boston and Vatcher, Swell has chosen partners who skew the improvisations towards the free jazz vernacular, but can go anywhere. Vatcher in particular brings a rhythmic sensibility to even the most adventurous moments, making it seem a natural fit. Boston supplies chops informed by contemporary classical practice and adds impressionistic textures, all the more so when behind the organ. While they operate in perfect but taut balance, you never know which direction they are going to take, as unlikely gambits surface, prosper or dissipate.
Among the highlights, the title track gets proceedings off to an explosive start. Here as throughout, Swell strikes up an especially noteworthy rapport with Vatcher, as they trade blistering attacks, while Boston's jabs tease and prickle. As the cut progresses, they journey stage by stage from fierce to reflective in a series of self-contained phases. On "Tastier Than Oranges," Swell's punchy staccato launches a spare jumpy exchange, haunted by Boston's spectral shimmer on the piano interior, while on the following "No Heavy Perfumes," more choppy interplay builds to a fiery crescendo and an abrupt stop. In contrast, the glacial chords of "Trepanation Trepidation" vie with the deepest trombone tones and a spare shuffle, in a satisfyingly measured dialogue.
Also worth a mention is the great in-your-face recording by Jim Clouse at Brooklyn's Park West Studios, which allows full appreciation of the nuances of Swell's playing, and forms the icing on an already tasty cake.
Brain In A Dish; New Use For Old Neurons; Feed Me!; Just Another Alogism; Tastier Than Oranges; No Heavy Perfumes; How Do You Like Yours?; Fried Or Roasted?; See Our Ad; Trepanation Trepidation; Psychopath In A Church Pew.
Steve Swell: trombone; Robert Boston: piano, organ; Michael Vatcher: drums.