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John Wolf Brennan / Gene Coleman / Christian Wolfarth: Momentum

Robert Spencer By

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This trio of pianist John Wolf Brennan, bass clarinetist Gene Coleman, and percussionist Christian Wolfarth are mainly interested on this disc in exploring sounds and textures and various possibilities of rhythm and dynamics. The Momentum of the title is honest and hard-won, for these performers are not relying on the already-realized potentials of steady rhythms for forward motion, but are attempting to establish new means of development and continuity.

Some of the moments in this momentum are quite simply astounding, as the three breath at one and find the most improbable divergences becoming moments of unexpected convergence. ("To hoo wa bo hoo" - "waste and void" in Hebrew - shows how much they can make out of nothing.) That's why this disc is so exciting: Coleman is a post-Dolphyan player who makes use of all that great master's discoveries in terms of overblowing and "noise effects." But it's how he uses them, especially in conjunction with Brennan and Wolfarth, that is so astounding in the acumen of his choices. Another Coleman, Ornette, once said in reference to "free jazz" that "it was when I discovered that I could make mistakes that I knew that I was onto something." That holds true - doubly true - here.

An outstanding example is the track with the tongue-in-cheek title "Harmolodic Outlaws." Coleman's percussive squibbles and blurts mesh with Wolfarth's textural layering, until Brennan prods the reedman outward into a quick-time duel that harks back to the spirals of bebop and to Ornette's free jazz that grew out of them, but never lapses into easy answers. The soundscape is utterly fresh and depends each moment on the active listening of the three musicians. A fine example of "free" improvisation.

And all in all, a rare treat.


Title: Momentum | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Leo Records

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