Steve Swell: Three Sides of the Same Coin

Jeff Stockton By

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Steve Swell's Fire Into Music
Swimming in a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow
Rogue Art

Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite
Live @ the Vision Festival
Not Two

The Magical Listening Hour
Live @ the South Street Seaport

Once Picasso was describing his eclectic, versatile style as being no real style at all, just "trying other things . Steve Swell is not Picasso, but he is a trombonist in the tradition of Jack Teagarden and even more so, Grachan Moncur and Roswell Rudd, who first fused the precise techniques of hard bop with the expressionism of free jazz. Swell's projects, however, are diverse. In a culture that more easily accepts specialization, Swell refuses to be pigeonholed.

The first recording from Steve Swell's Fire Into Music was a release so limited, Swell didn't know it was being pressed until he received a copy. Swimming in a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow encompasses a crosshatch of associations: Elder-statesman alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc has played with Swell in Moondoc's Jus Grew Orchestra and Swell has played in bassist William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. Moondoc gave Parker one of his first gigs in Muntu in the mid '70s and Parker, with drummer Hamid Drake, forms the most formidable rhythm section in jazz. Fire Into Music is a showcase for the Parker/Drake tandem, as the compositions are uncommonly elastic and loose, allowing the horns to bob and weave in and around the rhythmic pocket in exciting blues-informed harmonies.

Usually, Swell's Slammin' the Infinite is a piano-less quartet that keys on the avant-garde leanings of multi-reedist Sabir Mateen as well as the active and abstractly aggressive rhythm section of bassist Matthew Heyner and drummer Klaus Kugel. For their performance Live @ The Vision Festival (2006), the band enlisted pianist John Blum and between his banging chords and athletic runs up and down the keyboard and Mateen's searing alto and blistering tenor lines, there isn't much room for Swell, who seems content simply to blast away on the low end. As the improvisations get longer, the melodies get more tenuous. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you take your jazz largely unstructured and turbo-charged.

Magical Listening Hour asks the listener to pay close attention for longer than most of us are able these days — single tracks that clock in at 25, 35, or even 45 minutes — but this unconventional chamber jazz quartet finds its way to an off-kilter harmony through its four-part cacophony. The two sets recorded Live @ The South Street Seaport in April 2007 are long, but they manage to sustain interest thanks to the communicative powers of the musicians involved. Neither Swell, Louis Belogenis (tenor), Michael Attias (alto) or Nate Wooley (trumpet) raises his instrument much above a forceful declaration, but the organic interaction and statement-and-response structure of these extended improvs make you feel as if you're listening to four very interesting conversationalists who happen to have plenty to say.

Tracks and Personnel

Swimming in a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow

Tracks: Manhattan Dreamweavers; For Grachan; Blu Coo; Swimming in a Galaxy of Goodwill and Sorrow; For Arthur Williams; Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon

Personnel: Steve Swell: trombone; Jemeel Moondoc: alto saxophone; William Parker: double bass; Hamid Drake: drums

Live @ the Vision Festival

Tracks: Improv/Box Set; For Grachan; Patient Explorer/For Frank Lowe

Personnel: Steve Swell: trombone; Sabir Mateen: alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Matthew Heyner: bass; Klaus Kugel: drums; John Blum; piano

Live @ the South Street Seaport

Tracks: Set 1; Set 2

Personnel: Michael Attias: alto saxophone; Louis Belogenis: tenor saxophone; Steve Swell: trombone; Nate Wooley: trumpet


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