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Steve Swell: Slammin' the Infinite

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By Ken Waxman

A note from New York's Lower East Side underground, this fine session shows that the spirit of experimentation still shines brightly whether the sounds are called avant-garde, the new thing, or ecstatic jazz.

Two Little Huey Creative Orchestra members, trombonist Steve Swell and reedist Sabir Mateen, are featured on Slammin' the Infinite. Matt Heyner, the bassist on the date, is in the TEST collective with Mateen. Only German-born drummer Klaus Kugel isn't a regular downtowner. In Europe, however, he has long-time associations with other progressive Continental musicians, such as trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and saxophonist Michel Pilz.

Heir to the avant tailgate style of Roswell Rudd, trombonist Swell, who wrote all the tunes on Slammin' the Infinite, is his own man, adding bop articulation and speed to classic smears and shouts in his solos. Broken counterpoint involving his horn and Mateen's helps focus "For Frank Lowe," a hushed threnody for the recently departed first-generation new thinger. It also shows that these musical explorers know the tradition as well as the neo-cons that claim a monopoly on it. "Box Set," a stop-and-go piece, confirms this.

Built on a free bop theme from both horns, walking bass, and the Kugel press rolls, it could have been played by the New York Art Quartet in '66. As it is, the episodic theme recapitulations give plenty of room for Mateen and Swell to open up. The latter offers a double-tongued set of rubato slurs, while the former is in irregularly vibrated Aylerian tenor mode with upper-pitched squeaks. The title track is more of the same, although it features legato blowing from Swell. Also notable are Heyner's long, loping lines at the beginning and his slurred focused bowing that plucks out individual notes, amplified with a burst of spiccato at the end.

"Dresden Art Maneuvers," at a second less than eighteen minutes, is the set's tour de force. Commencing with a throbbing ostinato bass line plus hunt-and-peck martial drum action, it eventually redefines itself into a series of orchestral miniatures. A cappella, Mateen twists out obtuse clarinet timbres, Swell slides out muted and open-horn blats, growls and plunges; Kugel contributes door-knocking raps and a double-quick rush over elevated toms; and Heyner creates a resonating tuning peg-scraping bass line.

If the recording does have a modest downside, it's when Kugel gets overexcited and threatens to mask one or another of the others' work. When everything is taken into consideration, though, the CD is a fine example of how four in-tune musicians can accompany and complement one another. It's another stellar achievement for Swell and company. If you can't afford the time and expense to hang out in Manhattan's East Village or Lower East Side, this recording will give you an authentic picture of the free-form music thriving there.


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

Title: Slammin' the Infinite | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: CJR


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