Sam Gill is an alto saxophonist from Sydney, Australia who on this release with his quartet, Coursed Waters, plows a similar musical furrow as Tim Berne. His group plays an interesting blend of involved written-music and free improvisation with an elastic sense of volume and tempo.
The CD's opening track, "Nodap," starts with a climbing, angular melody that alternates between lively and mournful moods and turns into a cauldron of potent improvised rumbling that spotlights the cohesiveness between Gill's howling alto, Novak Manojlovic's nervous piano, Jacques Emery's jittery bass and James MacLean's rustling drums. A similarly angular feel underlies "Fortean Days." Here alto and drums stumble together in a woozy dance, the piano stabs well-placed chords and Emery's bass provides a solid rhythmic center, holding this jangling mass together as the tempo picks up and Gill and Manjlovic go on separate frenzied rides.
The group's talents with both melodic playing and improvisation are best illustrated by "Fortean Nights." It begins with Manojlovic dramatically tumbling alone, then with the bass and drums. The pace quickens as Gill buzzes in and the quartet dives into abstract smears and ripples which change into a more unified, slippery sound with giddy alto bouncing off piano chords. Then after a brief pause, the quartet starts to play together with an insistent, blues-tinged edge. The alto and piano frantically wail and surge together as the rhythm section keeps a rocky beat behind them.
"The Turn" and "Staring Straight" are more subdued works. "Turn" is a ballad form where Gill's warbling lines wander alongside halting piano and softly supportive rhythm. On "Staring" the quartet creates a trance-like atmosphere out of small musical fragments. Then Gill blows a repeated snatch of melody while the drums pop like firecrackers. This gradually builds to a jagged but tuneful quartet climax.
This is a stimulating slab of prickly composition and guided improvisation. Gill and his partners have a great feel for each other and know how to get through their unwieldy musical mazes without getting lost. As hair-raising as their individual playing can get, together they always manage to guide their music home to a satisfying conclusion.
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