Woe be to those musicians who don’t toe the line and submit to commercial pressures. A professional life of obscurity and hardship awaits thee. Andrew Lamb knows first hand. His debut on Delmark, now nearly a decade old, sank like a critical stone despite its deserved stature as a body of creative music worth hearing. What went down for Lamb in the interim is unclear, but this sophomore exercise on CIMP gleams like a beacon to all those who missed him the first time around. Long a champion of artists in need of a conduit, the label deserves credit for addressing the neglect.
Further good news is that the years away from the studio have been kind to Lamb’s sound. He takes on the cast of an aged pugilist, long-barred from the ring, who steps back in to reclaim his lost title by force. All of the bottled up frustrations come pouring out in an effusive mélange that demands rapt notice, and from the opening imploding strains of “Ludricous Ridiculous” Lamb plays the shit out of his horn. Juggling a circular motif to the point of strength-sapping saturation he comes on like a man possessed. Longtime colleague Andrei Strobert and the youthful Tom Abbs follow him nearly every step of the way, stoking a rhythmic and harmonic sustenance that further fuels his relentless tenor.
It’s no coincidence that the trio’s instrumentation parallels that of The Light, an outfit officiated by Lamb’s close mentor Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre. Other referents that boil through in his velocious style include the melodic acumen of Frank Lowe, though faster and more forceful, and a tensile tone on par with that of Joe Henderson. Just like Joe, he refrains from opting for the easy altissimo squeal or full-tilt screaming barrage, and instead crafts his tension incrementally via robust glissandi.
Reference his melody torquing spouts on the Gothic-tinged “The Adventures of a Trained Brush” for just one example. Firing off anthemic salvo after salvo over a sparse, vampish structure sculpted by his partners, Lamb crams an incredibly amount of pathos into a mere four plus minutes. Unfortunately there are also some snags, such as an occcasional harmonic ambivalence (akin to Charles Gayle) that rears up in his more uproarious exclamations, as on the riotous “Harvest of Sorts.”
The title track, which welds a Second Line tuba riff to a martial cadence and rhumba-reminiscent beat, further illustrates the infectious energy that regularly wells to the surface in the trio’s music. Beginning with an invocational wheeze on the double reed mismaar, Lamb soon switches to his standby tenor, blowing out a robust theme that bursts with confidence in close collusion with Abb’s ornery brass. Strobert jettisons a bustling display beats from his kit, propelling the action with sure- sticked syncopations.
“Contractions,” written in reference to Lamb’s apprehensive observations during the birth of his son, is just plain scary in terms of the amount of emotion packed in. Starting out with slow legato arcs across a roiling backdrop, Lamb’s lines gain weight and urgency as the tide of energy rises until the intensity is almost too much to bear. Abbs somber arco solo, flanked by Strobert’s press and cymbal rolls, leavens the severity a shade, but Lamb’s coda keeps the mood heavy.
Other tracks, like the ominous “Mask of the Black Lamb,” substantiate that these three men are not treading lightly and mean every emphatic sound that they utter. In a time where corporate music bean counters foist lowest denominator pap on the public, Lamb’s inveterate horn might be just the skeleton key to emancipate imprisoned ears.
Ludicrous Ridiculous/ The Adventures of a Trained Brush/ The Pilgrimage/ Voices of the Voiceless/
Contractions/ Mask of the Black Lamb/ Circus Avenue/ I Dream of a Love Song/ Harvest of Sorts/
Andrew Lamb, tenor saxophone, mismaar; Tom Abbs- bass, tuba; Andrei Strobert- drums.
Recorded: January 20 & 21, 2003, Rossie, NY.