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The E.C.F.A. Trio has been working in the Austin, Texas area for the past eight years, and Die Faden is their first album. Because of their unusual instrumentation (tenor saxophone, viola, drums) and because of their frequent use of rubato or unmetered rhythms, it is tempting to classify the E.C.F.A. Trio as practitioners of free jazz. But that would be a hasty, even short-sighted act of labelling, because Die Faden offers a stimulating variety of idioms and approaches.
Much of the music here sounds through-composed. One piece, "Variations In C," sounds entirely through-composed, except that wildly inventive, exuberant drumming by James Alexander is integral to the composition. The music, most of which was written by saxophonist Carl Smith, makes use of tone rows, and it might sound excessively somber were it not for its sheer unpredictability. A dirge-like melody might suddenly be interrupted by a tempo change, or the drums might suddenly lay down a carpet of roiling swing.
Most of the improvising is contrapuntal, with all three musicians intertwining thoughtful lines. The musicians listen well and invent well together. On "Big Mess," Jason Friedrich plays a terrific viola solo. Carl Smith has a huge tenor saxophone sound, sometimes employing a wide vibrato that somewhat recalls Albert Ayler. He eschews the expressive devices commonly used by energy players, and he plays stately, almost regal lines. Drummer Alexander is a gifted, often exciting player. His flat-out swing on "3 Eggs" is exhilirating.
E.C.F.A. Trio and Die Faden are not always an easy listen. Their music is often knotty, sometimes static. With no bass or chordal instrument, the music sounds thin at times. But their music is also witty and unpredictable. The listener will have to pay close attention, but that attention will be rewarded. E.C.F.A. stands for "Emanation, Creation, Formation, Action."
Track Listing: Faruq's Tone Row (dedicated to Faruq Z. Bey), Variations In C, Waters Variations (dedicated to Charles Waters), Variations In A, Big Mess, 3 Eggs.
Personnel: Carl Smith, sax; Jason Friedrich, viola; James Alexander, drums.
Track 6: Alex Coke, flute.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.