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Considering the expanding audience for creative improvised music these days it’s sometimes easy to forget that many of the players currently teeming in the tidepools of free jazz have actually been around for decades. More than a handful of those folks cutting records aren’t fresh-scrubbed faces, but seasoned veterans who have long been plying their craft in comparative obscurity. Tom Bruno definitely fits into this camp. For many years he worked as a fixture in the subway terminals of New York City. Under the pavement he was often an ensemble of one knocking out his own unmistakable panrhythmic cadence on all manner of pared down drum kit aggregations. He’s since moved above ground and is now best known as the drum dynamo behind the guerrilla jazz juggernaut TEST, a take-no-prisoners quartet that also counts among its ranks Daniel Carter, Sabir Mateen and Matt Heyner.
This disc, the first of hopefully further collaborations between Eremite and the New York Artists’ Collective, reissues one of Bruno’s earliest recordings and it’s a one man show from start to finish. Bruno takes on the role of solo improviser with vaudevillian versatility moving from his traps kit to piano and back again as the mood strikes him. The opening title track is a ten-minute percussion meditation ballooning with spatial dimensions and his skins act as rustling kindling brought to a slow smolder under the pressure of his sticks. He coaxes sonic textures from all of the surfaces at his disposal and the resulting rhythmic ripples lap magnetically at the audience’s ears. Toward the close he sets in motion a mammoth wave of cymbal static that rises to a fever pitch and then dissolves. “Ellen” and “Get My Hat” are features for his judicious pianistics. Both pieces in comparison to the drum tracks are sparse and moody and injected with unexpected lyrical interludes. Behind the keyboard he metes out rumbling notes and electrically charged silence in equal measure.
With “The Sound Comes From Within” the limitations of the recording become apparent and the piece suffers some from the absence of the visual component of Bruno’s performance which is lost in translation. Once he narrows attention to his kit the dynamic range of his technique achieves almost stentorian volumes before ebbing back into quieter passages. Patterns are pulled apart and reassembled into stunning succession of combinations and Bruno’s unflagging stamina becomes as impressive as his fertile rhythmic imagination. “Brushmush,” is as the name implies a showcase for Bruno’s jingoistic brushes, which whisk and thwack at all parts of his drum set while still advancing a loyal allegiance to the percussive greater good.
Solo performances of any kind are inherently risky endeavors, but Bruno’s attention to detail, coupled with his great respect both for his instruments and his audience carries through into a winning program of music. As if hinting at what might be currently in the works the liners of the disc contain a comprehensive listing of the drummer’s discography, which includes two other NYAC albums. With any luck these offerings will soon find their way to reissue in a manner similar to the one at hand.
Tracks:White Boy Blues/ Ellen, Portrait of an Artist/ The Sound Comes From Within/ Get My Hat, It’s a Rat/ Brushmush.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.