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Tom Abbs & Frequency Response: Hawthorne

Karl Ackermann By

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Bassist and multi-instrumentalist Tom Abbs began his Frequency Response series in 2003 with Conscription (CIMP Records). The group—then a quartet—included tenor saxophonist Brian Settles and drummer Chad Taylor. Alto saxophonist Jason Candler, violinists Jean Cook and Jenna Barvitski are later additions to Frequency Response. On their long-awaited fourth album Hawthorne, Abbs again stands in as a one-man orchestra, playing bass, cello, piano, and tuba.

Abbs, primarily known as a free improvisational bassist is also an accomplished filmmaker, having produced a documentary on the medical procedure where he donated a kidney to artist MP Landis. Among those he has recorded/performed with are Butch Morris, Charles Gayle, Daniel Carter, Cooper-Moore, Steve Swell, Sabir Mateen and Billy Bang. Taylor—along with Rob Mazurek—is a co-founder of the Chicago Underground collectives. He has performed with Fred Anderson, Derek Bailey, Cooper-Moore, Pharoah Sanders, Peter Brötzmann, Malachi Favors and many others. Settles incorporates his deep understanding of jazz tradition with an experimenter's sense of adventure. He has performed with Tomas Fujiwara, Michael Formanek, Jonathan Finlayson and Gil Scott-Heron. Cook is part of the 11tet jazz composers' workshop and has worked across genres from hip-hop to Dixieland. Barvitski played violin and viola in the group The Giants of Gender, a trio that rejected traditional music for "unnatural" improvisation.

From a conceptual viewpoint Hawthorne is a truly odd album. "Quarter" opens with Abbs' playing a traditional bass line and Cook's violin giving the piece a Euro-folk feel that carries over to the patiently mournful "Regret." The atmosphere changes dramatically with the appropriately titled "Turmoil," an abstract piece that sees Settles and Candler cut loose on the reeds, improvised violin, and Taylor pulling opposing forces together. Abbs takes to the piano on "Travel," an exotic swirl of sounds similar to the ensuing "Seeking"—a piece that is more disordered in nature. There are numerous mood swings to follow: "Fight" being dark and maudlin, "Longing," with Eastern colorations, and "Bounce," a free-flowing showcase for Taylor and Settles.

Abbs is a master multi-instrumentalist—a good example is his taking the tuba back to its jazz origins with a repetitive bass line. His large cache of instruments is integral to his goal of creating a variety of surface effects and soundscapes. Similarly, his music encompasses a wide variety of qualities and influences but without distinctly revealing sources. The concept for Hawthorne dates back to 2009, a time of serious trials for Abbs and the real-life issues have manifested themselves in a collection that is as moving as it is idiosyncratic.

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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