Tuesday, October 30, 2018

NZ Jazz: The Triplets Book

The Triplets Book (iiii Records)
Jeff Henderson (alto/bari/C-Melody/C-Soprano Saxes) Eamon Edmundsen-Wells (b) Joseph McCallum (d) November 2016

Sometimes deciding what album to delve into proves to be problematic. I've tried making lists but invariably I don't stick to them (but I continue making them anyway!). This month the plan was to listen to the newly released Good Winter from the Antipodes, but that fell by the wayside when October rolled around and I still hadn't bought it (I have since taken care of that). So instead I went for another release from earlier this year, The Triplet Book, which I picked up from Slow Boat records at the end of September. 

It's nice to feature the freer end of the jazz spectrum - something I need to do more - and also, this post marks the overdue appearance of Jeff in this series (if you exclude a NZ Music Month post on Syzygy from a few years back). Maybe Jeff was on my mind after I wrote the post on Roger Sellers? Whatever it was, it's nice to include him here and I have another couple of albums on the pile to get to down the track.

Jeff Henderson New Zealand JazzI can remember when Jeff added the baritone and clarinet to his arsenal, the soprano too but from memory, I haven't heard him play the latter until now. He's got a sound I dig on the straight horn – fat and resonant (there is also something I think of as sweetness). And it's the soprano that kicks off the album with “Triplets”. It's a good example of improvising within a limitation – in this case the whole tone scale.

Stones” flows on from the opening track and features more a pointillistic approach to Jeff's phrasing (still on soprano) and space plays a more prominent role, as does a lower dynamic level – nice contrast to both the proceeding piece and the track that follows. Following a solo introduction from Jeff, “Wabi-Sabi” takes shape with full-throttle blowing throughout – something I don't remember hearing on a C-melody before. The tubbiness in the core sound actually works pretty well with Jeff's rasp and bark around the edges. Although it doesn't fully surface, I get the feeling that there's a march feel underlying things here.

Considering the time of year, it seems appropriate to have a piece titled “Swarm Warning” (there were two swarms last week). It's full of pops, clicks, squeaks, slaps, blasts, multiphonics, air sounds, wailing, scrapes, prods, and stabs. Everything in moderation. First and foremost I think of Jeff as an alto saxophonist - it's the horn I have heard him on the most. On "New Folk" he passes a classic alto bubbly-ness through his own filter. In this case it's a little more Ornette-y than I expected (at least towards the beginning). There's plenty of energy and the buoyancy makes for a nice contrast to the previous piece and the upbeat feeling makes for a satisfying way to round out the album.

Jeff is the driving force out front but the rhythm section hold their own. While I'm aware of their names, I've heard very little from Edmundsen-Wells (some videos posted by John Fenton and Jim Langabeer's excellent album, Secret Islands) and even less from McCallum. But that's exactly what this listening series is about. It's quite a raw sounding recording, which I don't mind, but with the drums and saxes more prominent in the mix, I deliberately spent some time concentrating on the bass to make sure I digested Edmundsen-Wells' contributions without them slipping by – which could happen with more casual listening. There's a really nice blend between the bowed bass and throaty baritone sax on the contemplative, even tender, “Old Friends.” Plus he gets some solo room to stretch out, in which he contrasts the rich low register with whispering in the upper reaches. Although I found the polyrhythmic playing (along with the limited tonal field) on “Triplets” created a nice meditative quality, often I found McCallum's playing a little too dense for my liking. Not that the density was really out of place, but maybe it wouldn't have bothered me as much if the bass popped out a bit more - I'll survive. The more spacious “Stones” worked better for me, as did the mallet work on “Old Friends.” I welcomed whenever the dynamics dropped welcome, as it gave the bass a chance to reveal itself. 

Often I prefer to hear this sort of thing live (volume can be an issue for me... but I can control that here), and often I treat free jazz recordings like a concert and sit down and absorb things in one sitting via headphones (my stereo is in a box somewhere floating home). But not all that often do I make repeated listens over the course of a month, and it has been refreshing to do so. And I have to say the composed melodies are pretty catchy. There's a curiosity factor at play too (not a bad thing at all), as one thing I find a bit fascinating with music along these lines - particularly the “scratchy” and/or full-throttle playing - is that I don't envision myself ever playing this way. I'm not sure I'd know where to start, but maybe I should have a crack. 

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