Joe Fonda: Live at the Outpost Performance Space & Live at the Iron Works

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Conference Call
Live at the Outpost Peformance Space
482 Music

Fab Trio
Live at Iron Works, Vancouver, BC

Although the Fonda-Stevens group is a strong band, bassist Joe Fonda is best known as a sideman. His first recording was with Wadada Leo Smith in 1983 and he spent much of the '90s working with Anthony Braxton. Fonda has also played in groups led by Walter Thompson, Kevin Norton and others. On two recent releases, both albeit by collective ensembles, he shows the two sides of being a sideman.

Fonda has been a member of Conference Call - with saxophonist Gebhard Ullmann and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens - since the group's 2002 debut Final Answer (Soul Note). With the band's range of tones, he and a variety of drummers (Gerry Hemingway now fills the seat previously occupied by Matt Wilson and Han Bennink) are called upon to support driving, rhythmic tunes and slow, moody passages, often in the same piece. Across five tracks he does so with a mix of strength and deference, never pushing but always matching. On Stevens' "Circle Dance , he picks up a phrase from Ullmann and carries it as the horn slips into a short blues, then sidesteps slightly when Hemingway begins suggesting a soft rhythm on cymbals. It's the kind of subtlety that makes a band like Conference Call work.

The trio with Billy Bang and Barry Altschul (FAB Trio) is an altogether different affair. Bang's violin is almost impossibly bright and Altschul pushes harder than Hemingway. Fonda rises to the challenge by making the band something of a string duo with drums. His big bull viol darts quickly around the violin, with Altschul seeming to revel in the pointillist rhythms. The group shares writing credits on four of the six songs and repeat Fonda's "Song for My Mother from their 2003 debut on CIMP. Violins are as formidable sparring partners as saxophones and it's sometimes hard to aim your ears at the rest of the band. But in both cases and with two exceptional groups, Fonda finds his way through.

Tracks and Personnel

Live at the Outpost Performance Space

Tracks: 29 Shoes; Liquid Cage; Circle Dance; Mara Drole; As I Wait.

Personnel: Gebhard Ullmann: saxophones, bass clarinet; Michael Jefry Stevens: piano; Joe Fonda: bass; Gerry Hemingway: drums.

Live at Iron Works, Vancouver, BC

Tracks: FAB; For Frank Lowe; B.B; Tune For Barry; For Don Cherry; Song For My Mother.

Personnel: Billy Bang: violin; Joe Fonda: bass; Barry Altschul: drums.

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