Saxophone and Drum duets: rue victor masse; Control This; Common Denominator; Two in NYC.

John Sharpe By

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Ray Warleigh
rue victor masse

Michael Blake / Kresten Osgood
Control This
Clean Feed

Bonnie Kane / Federico Ughi
Common Denominator
W.O.O. Music

Arthur Rhames & Charles Telerant
Two in NYC
Ayler Records

It's hard to think of saxophone-drum duets without the mind leaping to John Coltrane's Interstellar Space. But while that has been a jumping-off point for countless free jazz firestorms since, it left a lot of less heated territory unexplored. That's the turf in which these four discs largely seek to stake a claim.

Ray Warleigh has been a mainstay on the British jazz scene for more than four decades, but Rue Victor Massé is only the fourth outing under his leadership. It is all improvised, except for the high drama of "I Fall In Love Too Easily." Warleigh explains: "What I play is absolutely unpremeditated. There are no soundscapes or pictures in my head. But I like melody very much and I've thought about it a lot." Long-time associate Tony Marsh fills the drum chair, masterfully incorporating diverse textures into his tumbling rhythms, like a distant cousin of another top notch British drummer, Tony Oxley. Warleigh's explorations rarely forsake conventional tonality for long, but that doesn't stop him recounting some wonderfully lyrical stories through his full-toned alto saxophone and strong flute. There's a sense of eavesdropping on an intimate dialogue.

Canadian saxophonist Michael Blake and Danish drummer Kresten Osgood have forged a strong connection, working in diverse formats including the reedman's Danish band Blake Tartare. On Control This the instrumentation is almost incidental. What you get is two musicians interacting and having a good time through spontaneous invention (though the inclusion of the goofing around at the end of Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" wasn't essential to make that point). Blake's breathy alto saxophone toys with melodic phrases on the opening "Salutations," in playful combination with Osgood's gradually increasing rhythmic mass. Some of the best moments come when the saxophonist's reiterations mesh with the drummer's spacious rhythmic architecture, as on the buoyant "Elephants Are Afraid of Mice." "Cheryl" apart, "Creole Love Call" is the only preconceived piece, featuring a loose chorale of three overdubbed saxophones in a South African kwela feel, framing joyful tenor saxophone and drum freedom.

Expanding the tonal palette on Common Denominator, downtown saxophonist Bonnie Kane also calls on electronic effects alongside her smoky tenor and flute and Federico Ughi's loosely propulsive drums in another freely extemporized program. Straight away it is clear that Kane is an accomplished traveler on the avant jazz road, with the relaxed ambience of "The Ties That Bind" quickly giving way to expressive tonal distortions. Elsewhere her electronics conjure ghostly backing for a mysterious ambience to their acoustic musings. Ughi proves adept at loose rolling mid-tempo pulses that maintain impetus while not constraining Kane. However her flute on the final two tracks convinces less than her tenor, not helped by a slightly hot recording.

Arthur Rhames actually gigged in duet with Rashied Ali, the other half of the Interstellar Space twosome, but Two in NYC finds him in the company of drummer Charles Telerant back in the early '80s. Rhames' touchstone here seems to be the Coltrane of the late '50s-early '60s, with covers of "Mr. P.C.," "Impressions" and "I Want to Talk About You" alongside several originals. Opening the album are two field recordings of the duo from the streets of NYC, complete with trucks and passing conversations. At the core is a club recording featuring Rhames on not only tenor saxophone, but also piano, electric guitar and vocals. While he boasts chops to spare, there are only hints of what he could do and, by hewing so closely to 'Trane's oeuvre, he struggles to escape the great man's penumbra. In anyone else's discography this set would barely merit a footnote, but such is the sparseness of Rhames' legacy (he died in 1989 aged 32) that it forms valuable documentation. But, wow, would it have brightened up your day if you had chanced upon these guys on the street!

Tracks and Personnel

rue victor masse

Tracks: Blues and; Nothing but; The Other Side; New Moon; Prayer; I Fall in Love Too Easily; For Flute and Percussion; Inner Ray; Standards and Blues; EnFin.

Personnel: Ray Warleigh: alto saxophone, flute; Tony Marsh: drums

Control This

Tracks: Salutations; Control This; Creole Love Call; Top Hat; Elephants Are Afraid of Mice; Cotton Mouth; Cheryl.

Personnel: Michael Blake: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Kresten Osgood: drums.

Common Denominator

Tracks: The Ties That Bind; The Long Breath; Thoughts of our Fathers; After 120 Years; Thoughts of our Mothers; Anticipation; Delight of Memory; Forever Within.

Personnel: Bonnie Kane: tenor saxophone; flute, effects; Federico Ughi: drums, flute.

Two in NYC

Tracks: Mr. PC; Impressions; Rachmaninoff on Giant Steps; Let My People Go; Pressing On, part 1; Pressing On, part 2; Remember Me; I Got Rhythm; I Want to Talk about You / Mr. PC.

Personnel: Arthur Rhames: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, piano, electric guitar, vocals; Charles Telerant: drums.


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