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John Butcher/ Gerry Hemingway Buffalo Pearl Auricle 2008
Gerry Hemingway/ Thomas Lehn Kinetics Auricle 2008
Gerry Hemingway isn't restricted by any particular concept of the drummer. He's led forceful bands with sidemen like Ellery Eskelin and Ray Anderson, updating hard bop and post-bop in the process and made empathetic contributions to the densely woven music of Anthony Braxton and Marilyn Crispell. His recordings include composed percussion music that exploits a host of techniques and he is also a willing participant in free improvisation, the kind that genuinely defines its parameters as it goes along. He's heard in that context on these recordings, each with a long-standing partner. In each performance the musicians' sonic identities come to merge, the work going beyond dialogue to become whole music.
Buffalo Pearl finds Hemingway in Buffalo in 2005 with the English saxophonist John Butcher. While one might expect the intensely meditative sustained work the two have sometimes produced, there's frequently intense animation here, the scurry and bustle of Butcher's lines pressing toward the kinetic play of his jazz forebears until a concluding explosion that has ties to Coltrane's Interstellar Space. Both players can explore a sound to its microcosmic structure, picking out a facet and magnifying it for new possibilities. What's most fascinating here is the way they do it while building melodic and linear patterns, whether it's Hemingway scratching away at the surface of a drum or scraping a cymbal or Butcher tapping a plosive drum pattern with the key pads of his sax or shadowing his own line with a multiphonic burr. There are moments when Butcher approaches electronic sound, only to hearken back suddenly to the the bar-walking tenor saxophonists of R&B, alongside Hemingway's furious polyrhythms on full drum kit. Hemingway's use of small percussion and a sampler here further blurs identities, creating electronic burbles that resemble parts of Butcher's vocabulary.
Thomas Lehn has a fierce loyalty to the sonic character of the old analogue synthesizers that he employs. Where others might curse the limitations, Lehn constructs a fluid identity, never disguising the blips and scratches endemic to his instruments. While Lehn can play dazzling runs, he avoids them here, moving further and further into the static and hum that are the instrument's native language. The music on Kinetics is drawn from three performances (Austria and France in 2003; France in 2006). Distinctions between foreground and background are suspended along with those between chance and intention. Hemingway's use of dense metallic percussion gets him strikingly close to Lehn's ambient electronics. The half-hour long "Maquette" seems at times completely interiorized, the two working their way to the point of silence before a sudden revival takes place, Hemingway's animated, resonant swatting at his drums turning into compelling rhythmic invention and Lehn arriving at the rumbles of a tractor engine reaching for a bass riff. It's clearly not music for everyone, but its mission is clear, to reach beyond the expected to the possibility of fresh dialogue.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Light Queen; Head Nickel; McGeist; No Illusion; The Good Neighbor.
Personnel: John Butcher: tenor and soprano saxophones; Gerry Hemingway: drums, percussion, voice, sampler.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.