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Steve Baczkowski: Old Smoke

John Sharpe By

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Reedman Steve Baczkowski would surely be better known had he not remained in Buffalo, NY, where he grew up and studied, as he possesses a fearsome sound. In his guise as Music Director of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in his hometown, he's undoubtedly familiar with the German saxophone titan Peter Brötzmann, who is clearly an inspiration. There's the same huge vibrato and worrying of a prolonged note, like a dog with a bone. He's also inclined to simple extemporized melodies and the wringing of emotion from restated phrases.

But he's far from a clone. One notable difference is his co-option of drone textures, manifest in the sustained breathy splutterings which emerge during "Blast Furnace," which act as oases of relative calm among the ferocious onslaughts; and another arrives with his nasal cry on soprano saxophone, evoking a distant muezzin call to prayer on "Open Hearth."

Baczkowski has recruited a formidable team for this type of uncompromising free jazz in the shape of adventurous up-and-coming bassist Brandon Lopez and the already firmly established drummer Chris Corsano. At times it seems as if Lopez is channeling William Parker's approach of cycling through sequences of reiterated motifs at fast tempos to add a wiry substructure to otherwise unfettered discourse. Lopez contributes a deep throb like a jackhammer on "Slag Heap" while Corsano lays waste to his kit and Baczkowski wails, and the bassist plunges up and down the fingerboard during a fine solo passage on "Steel Wind."

Lopez might just have found the perfect partner in Corsano. Although the drummer famously works with Bjork, he's nonetheless a veteran of the avant scene, a confidante of the likes of reed iconoclasts Evan Parker, Paul Flaherty and Joe McPhee. As such he's adept at weaving pulsating sonic carpet from the textures available on his augmented trapset.

Baczkowski's grainy baritone yowl initiates "Iron Ore" over simmering rhythmic churn, as the threesome astutely steers through a continuous performance comprising the first four of tracks which have been demarcated to reflect the shifts in mood. Their outstanding sensitivity and responsiveness to changes in dynamics, makes for a unified and satisfying group identity in which the interest resides in how they reach the inevitable climaxes as much as the cathartic explosiveness itself.

Cover and titles are redolent of heavy industrial practices and a similar vibe pervades the music too. Don a hard hat, protective clothing and a high vis jacket to listen.

Track Listing: Iron Ore; Blast Furnace; Bend in the Shore; Open Hearth; Slag Heap; Steel Wind; Smoke Creek.

Personnel: Steve Baczkowski: saxophones; Brandon Lopez: bass; Chris Corsano: drums.

Title: Old Smoke | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Relative Pitch Records

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