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Rob Brown-Lou Grassi Quartet: Scratching the Surface

Derek Taylor By

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The combination of Rob Brown and Assif Tsahar is quickly becoming my pairing of choice for reliably conceived improvisational brilliance. On the several recordings the two have graced together to date they demonstrate a degree of rapport that borders on the supernatural. Reference their unbelievable conversations on William Parker's "Posieum Pendasem" on the FMP label for a slice of what I'm alluding to. This date finds the two earlier in their associations and thankfully delivers another profusion of examples as to why they rank among the upper echelons of improvising musicians.

All four men are at the height of their game on this session and the compositions, authored mainly by Brown, are designed with maximum improvisational opportunities in mind. Lightcap is perhaps most well known as bassist in Joe Morris' working quartet. Grassi's discography has largely been limited to other CIMP dates, but his ingenuity on the drums screams for increased opportunities to record.

“The Arc" sets a tantalizing stage finding the four feeling the surroundings and each other out. Of particular interest is Grassi's athletic solo that closes the tune in wash of thunderous drums. "Stray Arrow" changes direction in a lyrical conversation forwarded by Brown blowing punctiliously across the upper registers of his horn. Grassi's kit is aflutter with tiny percussive accents and Tsahar answers Brown's opening oration with a lyrical turn of his own. On "A Hatful," after a deceptively gradual beginning, the four pull out the all stops in a stampede of sounds. Brown and Tsahar devise one of their elaborate duets blending squealing lines with hermetic proximity and it’s during unison passages such as this that the saxophonists really demonstrate their staggering levels of volatile congruity. Towards the piece’s close, Grassi embarks an extended foray on brushes that is equally engrossing in its muted intricacy.

A nervous energy pervades “3 Rings” thanks mainly to Lightcap’s prickly plucked and bowed bass lines. His iron fingers also introduce Tsahar’s “Triangle” weaving a tight rhythmic texture for the horns to tug against. “Procession” offers a rare reprieve of quietude and finds Brown and Tsahar again trading off solo passages at a decelerated before their final frenetic blowout on Lightcap’s “Unitarians.” As the only recording thus far released by this quartet this meeting of their minds is made all the more valuable. Listeners with even a marginal interest in creative improvised music are strongly advised to seek it out.

Track Listing: The Arc/ Stray Arrow/ A Hatful/ Clean Sweep/ 3 Rings/ Triangle/ Procession/ Unitarians.

Recorded: October 6 & 7, 1997 at The Spirit Room, Rossie New York.

Available directly through North Country Distributors (http://www.cadencebuilding.com)

Personnel: Rob Brown- alto saxophone; Assif Tsahar- tenor saxophone; Chris Lightcap; bass; Lou Grassi- drums.

Title: Scratching the Surface | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: CIMP Records

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