Steve Swell: Double Diploid & Live at the Bowery Poetry Club

Jim Santella By

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Steve Swell · David Taylor Quartet
Double Diploid

Steve Swell's Nation of We
Live at the Bowery Poetry Club
Ayler Records

Steve Swell exhibits the unique power of his instrument on these two albums of creative, avant-garde music. Since jazz was in its infancy, the trombone has remained unique due to the wide range of effects it can obtain. Over the years, creative artists have expanded the repertoire, graduating from tailgate growls and glissando slides to multiphonics, ultra-high squeals and deep-rooted pedal tones.

The quartet session on Double Diploid features two percussionists alongside the trombones of Swell and David Taylor. From the trombone's deepest pedal tones to its highest wails, Swell and Taylor merge their instrumental voices in timeless fashion, expressing what can be felt only through genuine emotion. As percussionists Warren Smith and Chad Taylor surround the duo with an arsenal of intriguing sounds, including two vibraphones and a balaphon, the session moves seamlessly across themes. Taylor's booming bass trombone carries a large inflection and aims primarily for the lower harmonic scope of the quartet's range. Swell, on the other hand, flies high with a bright façade and a glistening demeanor. His "For Oumou, With Love stands out as the session's most rhythmic piece, adding drums to the affair and merging with the crisp two-trombone action eloquently. Taylor's title track goes off on a tangent, opening with simultaneous spoken conversations that carry little artistic value. Sitting by while this piece develops is much like waiting for a bus, where folks carry on conversations that affect us whether we like it or not. Fortunately, the remainder of the album contrasts 180-degrees with this segment.

Swell expands his horizon on Live at the Bowery Poetry Club, featuring his Nation Of We big band, also known as the NOW Ensemble. The larger instrumental format provides room for three trumpets, four trombones, three altos, two tenors, two basses, piano and drums to fill the room with free action. The album consists of one long composition by the leader, "Declaration of Interdependence , which is divided into four parts. The music takes no noticeable divisions, however, as the improvising baton is passed around the room seamlessly. Suite-like, the mood changes from dramatic and intense to quiet and serene; however, the album's forceful portions outnumber those with less intensity. Alto saxophones wail and cry while basses and drums provide a steady stream of undercurrent pulses. Swell and Taylor stand out for their radical trombone outpouring, as they both reach for the creative edge. Another trombonist, Dick Griffin, stands out for his intriguing soliloquy that stops the orchestra cold. The big band balance that Swell achieves produces an accessible solution for improvised jazz soloing while demonstrating the full power of a large ensemble in its creative throes.

Tracks and Personnel

Double Diploid

Tracks: Geological Time Line; Aural Evidence Expressed Within the Narrow Space of Now; Buy You; Cessation of Your Expectation; For Oumou, With Love; Double Diploid; Fire of Breath; False Stung Saddle.

Personnel: Steve Swell: trombone; David Taylor: bass trombone; Warren Smith: percussion, vibraphone, balaphon; Chad Taylor: percussion, vibraphone.

Live at the Bowery Poetry Club

Tracks: Declaration of Interdependence: First Part; Second Part; Third Part; Fourth Part.

Personnel: Steve Swell, Dave Taylor, Dick Griffin, Peter Zummo: trombone; Roy Campbell, Lewis Barnes, Matt LaVelle: trumpet; Rob Brown, Will Connell, Saco Yasuma, Sabir Mateen, Ras Moshe: saxophone; Chris Forbes: piano; Matthew Heyner, Todd Nicholson: bass; Jackson Krall: drums.

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