Before recording the seven pieces on Let Them Pass, bassist Mike Bisio, drummer John Heward, and mulit-reedsman Joe Giardullo reflected intensely, Philip Egert’s liner notes tell us, “on how their parents and grandparents had immigrated to Canada and the United States...(coming) with little more than a ‘Laissez-passer’ in their pockets.” Liner notes do not often provide anything of import besides historical and recording information, but such direct honesty about the intellectual process that shaped this stunning recording speaks of the openness and power of the music, and also Drimala Records’ attempt to communicate directly with listeners.
The song titles, numbered “Let Them Pass One” to “Let Them Pass Seven,” indicate the trio is creating variations on a theme. They are, certainly, but the theme is not a musical one, rather an intellectual one, of how their ancestors journeyed to a new world without knowing what awaited them; they only knew they were going somewhere. These days, it’s an experience most of us have only in the temporal sense, and the trio here makes a soundtrack for that journey.
The pieces range from churning storms (“One” and “Seven”) and spacious atmospherics (“Four”) to blistering webs of microtonal texture (“Two”). The group explores the extended techniques of their instruments as much as, if not more so, than the base ones. Bisio’s scathing arco work sets a frenetic pace for “Two,” one that Giardullo matches with piercing blasts from his piccolo. On “Four” the trio goes deep, literally. Giardullo blows low quiet tones on bass clarinet; Bisio smudges the space with scattered phrases, eventually drifting into rounded, woody harmonics and dialoguing with Heward’s thumb piano.
The trio members have a rich background. Montreal-based Heward constantly tours with visiting musicians, including Joe McPhee and Dominic Duval, and he also paints and sculpts. Bisio works out of Seattle, and in addition to his own small group composing, he has toured and recorded with Charles Gayle, John Tchicai, Sonny Simmons and others. Giardullo also counts McPhee as a regular collaborator, and he has composed for Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening Band.
They draw upon these experiences to shape their improvisations into bold and varied figures, following Heward’s drumming approach “to set up something so that it could be broken into something else." ”Three” begins life as a broken, meandering blues, jumps into a swinging walk, then slips into a hypnotic sway. Bisio repeats a slippery line in six until it becomes a chant, lulling the trio and listener into a trance. They focus each variation on a limited set of musical ideas, then intensively examine each possibility.
Drimala founder Philip Egert claims his flagship website was the first record label to sell music over the internet. True or not, the spirit of DIY and directness is present, and such belief in how music can communicate with listeners is heartening to hear. Let Them Pass transmits a deep sense of intellectual reflection, musical interaction and human honesty.
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