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Thomas Borgmann / Wilber Morris / Reggie Nicholson: Nasty & Sweet

John Sharpe By

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From the first few notes, it's apparent that something special is happening on Nasty & Sweet. Perhaps it's the way bassist Wilber Morris and drummer Reggie Nicholson sound so assured in their placement of the merest splashes of color. Completely unafraid to take their time, creating a powerful tension which isn't released even when German reedman Thomas Borgmann joins with his breathily majestic tenor saxophone smears. There is a story here.

Borgmann's trio with the monster US rhythm team of Morris and drummer Denis Charles was one of the great unsung working bands of the 1990s, releasing a series of marvelous performances, such as Boom Swing (Konnex, 1998) and Stalker Songs (CIMP, 1998) with saxophone titan Peter Brötzmann. When Charles passed away in 1998, the remaining pair made the decision to carry on, recruiting AACM stalwart Nicholson to fill the drum chair. With just one obscure vinyl disc and a single studio album to their name—the well-regarded You See What We're Sayin' (CIMP, 1999)—the resultant BMN trio similarly flew below the critical radar. So this two-LP set, documenting two live dates from St. Ingbert in Germany in 1998 and Tampere in Finland in 1999 doubles their discography at a stroke.

Honed to perfection through touring, the group ethos is one of equality and fleet responsiveness, turning on a dime from Berlin blues to ear shredding harmonics and roiling tattoos. Deep listening characterizes their interaction. Borgmann takes an unfettered lyrical approach, though he spices his poignant sweetness with pitch bending microtonal distortion and impassioned overblowing. Morris makes an art out of sculpting sounds from his amplified acoustic bass, strumming, bowing and tapping to extract a range of percussive textures in effective variance to his customary melodic counterpoint, while Nicholson drives the engine room sensitively, combining timbral smarts and fierce precision.

Spread over two sides, the 52-minute title track stands as a masterpiece of organically evolving group interplay, full of passion and warmth. By way of contrast, "We Went That Away" convinces as an up-tempo burner, while on "Wilber's Mood" the German's snake charmer sopranino embarks on a roller coaster ride. As much a mood as a tune, the band revisits "Nasty & Sweet" for the final cut, where an elegiac air pervades proceedings before the intensity builds incrementally, though regrettably the track fades out. Sadly Morris, brother of the recently deceased cornetist and exponent of conduction Laurence Butch Morris, died in 2002 signaling the end of the BMN Trio, making this unexpected resurrection all the more worth celebrating.

Track Listing: Nasty & Sweet (Part 1); Nasty & Sweet (Part 2); We Went That Away; Wilber's Mood; Nasty & Sweet.

Personnel: Thomas Borgmann: tenor, soprano, sopranino saxophones, toy whistle; Wilber Morris: bass; Reggie Nicholson: drums.

Title: Nasty & Sweet | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records

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