Recorded in Los Angeles in 1999, but mixed and released ten years later by tubaist Tom Heasley and Kronos Quartet engineer Scott Fraser, Varistar is a moody and atmospheric work from three experienced improvisers. Its predominantly slow and introspective feel of its seven improvised pieces create, at times, an almost claustrophobic intensity.
The opening "Delicious Red" is driven by cornetist Bobby Bradford's fine playing. In fact, Bradford is the most consistently inventive player across the albumHeasley lacks emphasis at times, overpowered by Bradford in particular, while guitarist Ken Rosser can be repetitive. However, both Rosser and Heasley have moments of great inventiveness: Rosser's crystal-clear acoustic guitar on "Not Forgotten" is one of the highlights of the album, while Heasley's tuba on "Varistar" sounds like the cries of a wild dog.
"Crooked March," the album's shortest and most composed-sounding track, is a humorous take on John Philip Sousa's variety of American music. Rosser's guitar sounds like a banjo arguing with a Dobro, while Heasley's tuba punches out an almost-straightforward pulse and Bradford's cornet weaves in and out between the lines from his fellow musicians.
The closing "Elegy for John Carter" is a tribute to the late clarinetist, whose work with Bradford in the New Art Jazz Ensemble and the John Carter/Bobby Bradford Quartet extended over many years, beginning in the mid-1960s. Fittingly, Bradford takes the lead on this piece but Rosser's guitar effects and Heasley's plaintive tuba are crucial to its respectful tone.
Track Listing: Delicious Red; Ohio; Crooked March; Not Forgotten; Practically Sensible; Varistar; Elegy for John Carter.
Personnel: Bobby Bradford: cornet; Tom Heasley: tuba; Ken Rosser: guitars, effects.
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