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Tom Abbs & Frequency Response: Hawthorne

Don Phipps By

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On his album Hawthorne, Brooklyn-based Tom Abbs showcases his mastery of several instruments and writing styles. Combining free, hard bop, world, and blues styles, Abbs's compositions juxtapose explosive exposés of new music with idioms that hearken back to ancient times.

Abbs is joined by Jean Cook and Jenna Barvitski on violin, Brian Settles on tenor, Chad Taylor on drums, and Jason Candler on bass clarinet and alto sax. Abbs handles the chores on bass, tuba, piano, and cello.

The set begins with "Quarter," a jolting composition featuring Abbs's fast bass walking, Taylor's active drumming, and the startling attacks and unison phrasing of Settles and Cook. Taylor's sound on the skins is reminiscent of the late great Ed Blackwell.

Abbs opens "Regret" with an almost bluegrass cello line. Then like a couple of country balladeers, Settles and Cook, with both bow and plucking, explore the long notes of the melody.

The free playing on "Turmoil" is anchored by violin and tenor improvisations. Underneath are bass exploratons and random drumming. Settles explodes on tenor sax, Candler offers some sinister notes on bass clarinet, and the tandem of Cook and Barvitski add flourishes above the action.

Taylor opens "Travel" with a funky beat on drums. The African-sound dance tune features a repeating motif on the bass, echoed by Cook on violin. Settles "plays in" on his solo.

"Seeking" starts and ends with an Abbs blues abstraction on piano. As Abbs channels his inner Cecil Taylor, Candler offers whole notes on bass clarinet. There's a lot of hot playing on this number, including high pitches from the violins and tenor sax and "go crazy" drumming.

Abbs uses the tuba on "Fight" in a repeating motif to replace the bass line. Taylor adds a rocky beat. Then tenor and violins state the theme in unison. Suddenly, Candler and Settles break into squeals. The tuba utters single notes, emphasized by the drum, and the piece winds down with a restatement of the theme.

"Longing" begins with Cook developing the theme. Then, as if a cloud suddenly covered the sun, the piece turns gray. Cook carries the composition to a haunting end over Taylor's free drums.

"Bounce" sounds like a camel ride over the desert. The bass and drums merge into a rhythm while the tenor and violin enunciate the theme. Settles emerges with cool playing above the bass/drum pattern.

Abbs and Taylor open "Collide" with some free playing. Settles joins in while Cook's violin hovers behind. There's an odd meter, emphasized by the snare. Taylor provides a march and Settles rolls in with a Roscoe Mitchell-like solo.

Taylor starts off "Binding" with an Egyptian beat (think of an updated version of Duke Ellington's "Caravan"). Abbs joins in on tuba. The tenor and violins play the theme atop as the sound becomes fused like clay underneath their lines and shrieks.

There's a bit of vaudeville in Abbs's piano opening of "Cast," like in one of those black-and-white movies when the villain ties the heroine to railroad tracks. As the piece evolves, Settles provides rapid bursts on his tenor as Abbs settles into a lurking quarter note progression. Taylor rumbles behind. Violin and tenor together work the theme and the song ends with a musical question.

Hawthorne offers some brilliant improvising over difficult terrain. Abbs should be commended for this diverse set of tunes and his mastery of multiple instruments. His haunting phrases will stay with the listener. Hawthorne is a challenging and entertaining journey.

Track Listing: Quarter; Regret; Turmoil; Travel; Seeking; Fight; Longing; Bounce; Collide; Binding; Cast.

Personnel: Tom Abbs; bass, tuba, cello, piano; Jean Cook: violin; Brian Settles: tenor sax; Chad Taylor: drums; Jenna Barvitski: violin; Jason Candler: alto sax, bass clarinet.

Title: Hawthorne | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Northern Spy Records

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