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Trombonist Steve Swell's latest album is an appealing free jazz set, by turns reflective and raucous. Swell's original compositions are brought to life by the animated playing of his quartet, which includes Sabir Mateen on reeds and flute, Matthew Heyner on bass, and Klaus Kugel on drums.
The opening track of Slammin' the Infinite, "With the Morning, Hope, typifies the approach of the quartet throughout the album. An unaccompanied trombone solo begins the piece, gradually joined by the other instruments. Mateen delivers a darting flute solo over slides and dips and runs in the bass and increasingly free drumming. There's no regular harmonic progression, but the musicians' strong voices keep the listener's attention. The composition's head only appears at the end, when Swell's trombone returns and joins the flute to deliver a calm, measured statement.
Among the other arresting tracks on the album is "East Village Meet and Greet. Conveying the impression of competing conversations in a too-small apartment, it crescendos to a spastic, frenzied pitch, with Mateen wailing in the uppermost range of the clarinet over constant snare drum rolls. "Dresden Art Maneuvers is an eighteen-minute marathon that evolves through different sections. On the head, Swell and Mateen play in unison made dissonant by slightly-off intonation, while Heyner's bowed harmonics are just one of the interesting techniques the bassist uses throughout the album. The title track is another fine Swell composition, with a quirky, repeated Monk-ish theme for tenor and trombone that gives way to a heated Mateen solo.
Track Listing: 1. With the Morning, Hope 2. East Village Meet and Greet 3. Box Set 4. Dresden Art Maneuvers 5. Slammin' the Infinite 6. Voices from the Asphalt 7. For Frank Lowe
Personnel: Steve Swell, trombone; Sabir Mateen, reeds and flute; Matthew Heyner, bass; Klaus Kugel, drums
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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