Thomas Borgmann, Wilber Morris, Reggie Nicholson - Nasty & Sweet (No Business, 2012) ****½
Thomas Borgmann, Akira Ando, Willi Kellers - Boom Box: Jazz (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011) ****½
Kidd Jordan - On Fire Vol II (Engine, 2012) ****½
By Stan Zappa
By now, the movements in a work like Nasty & Sweet should have commonly used names. While unmediated dynamics still seems to deny This Music consideration by “real” scholars and critics of “real” music, the structural organization throughout Nasty & Sweet is a familiar one that spans all music. Nasty & Sweet Part I starts as so many pieces of music involving 3 musicians have and will, as there are only so many ways for a trio to go from silence to sound in any music. It is a sprawling alap setting the level of musicianship for the rest of the recording.
Thomas Borgman is one of those rare examples of equal part musician and instrumental virtuoso. The facets are many to Borgman's Tenor tone; in it one hears Coleman Hawkins, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler and of course, John Coltrane. Borgmann transmutes those now familiar antecedents into something convincing. Less mugging in daddy's pork-pie, more a reading of the gospel before King James got a hold of it. His Soprano (and I believe Sopranino) playing, though not as tonally diverse, is no less tonally distinct than his sound on tenor. It is on the smaller horns where his virtuoso side waxes without the musicianship waining.
With Morris' bass and alternatively and Nichols' drumming, there is little Borgmann could have done to stall the momentum or derail the train. Morris was no less the bassist than Richard Davis, Fred Hopkins or Jimmy Garrison. Sonically and functionally, it is fair to place him in their company. Nichols, another giant of the rhythm section keeps pace with Morris and Borgmann at the same time—a feat that would otherwise necessitates two “normal” drummers. There is no immediate idiosyncratic hook to Nichols drumming, just above average skill firmly rooted in Jazz and the music that supplanted it as the central art music of our day. This is likely why he is so enjoyable to listen to.
Understandably Nasty & Sweet Part I and II have all the hallmarks of live performance—the grandeur of gesture and the bell curve shaped structure. It is interesting to hear Nasty & Sweet (the 5th track on the recording) which, based on the information available to me, I assume was not a recording from a performance. The difference is subtle, which leads me to believe live or in the studio, this group functioned on a high level regardless of the setting. There's an honesty there worth noting—or setting against the rest of the Parent Culture's fakery. Your choice.
Give or take a decade later, Thomas Borgmann's Boom Box dispenses with the feeling of ceremony with a studio recording of discreet, individual, crafted, manicured, memorable songs. Remember them? Not to be linguistically imprecise, but the last maker of “songs” within the “jazz” idiom I could really get behind, that comes to mind at this moment, was David Murray. And it is David Murray, particularly Flowers for Albert that pinged my memory when listening to Borgmann's For Albert and Frank. If I had an Ipod, those two songs wouldn't be too far away from each other—a mutual compliment.
Another standout on Boom Box is the fugue like proportions and dimensions of Little Birds may Fly. Like Bach (yes, that Bach) Borgman knows how to melodically set them up and knock them down with precision and invention. His task is consistently facilitated by the contrapuntal excellence of bassist Akira Ando and drummer Willi Kellers. Was there ever any question, both are forever now in The Book; ours is now to follow and listen.
Boom Box makes you wish you wish the Borgmann trio would come to your home town and stretch out on those songs at your favorite haunt.
Here at the Freejazz collective, we don't get the actual CD's, just the files. Sometimes (but not always) the player on my computer assigns a genre to the music in question. Nasty & Sweet came up as a Blues. Indeed the blues is grabbed for on Nasty & Sweet in a bald (and beautiful) way on We Went That Away.
On Fire by Kidd Jordan is without any such realistic renderings and yet, my blues needs are met far more convincingly within the first few moments than in all the recordings by Borgmann I've heard thus far. Were they both brush painters, Jordan and Mr. Charles Gayle's paintings would look alike, with Gayle's being a larger, more menacing. Borgmann's would show in the same gallery, but would immediately appear different. If pressed I might be inclined to suggest that difference (which isn't hierarchical) might have something to do with race, class, and the difference between the American and the European experience. The aesthetic terrior if you like.
With Jordan, there is the same willful jaggedness of line and joyous abandonment of the tempered scale without quite the same feeling of impending apocalypse as Gayle so gayly delivers. One can indulge in both without risking a panic attack. Even if Jordan was a school of one (and he hardly is), his tone and melodic contour is so fully developed, so confident and clear that when set against the parent culture's plonk, they deserve their own appellation. At the very least let's take note of the fact that Jordan (like Gayle) is part of that exclusive club of tenor players—the Fellowship of Reedsmen who have performed with Milford Graves.
Like Borgmann, Jordan finds himself amply supported by an attentive, interactive rhythm section. Harrison Bankhead on bass (and cello, I believe) is as much a harmonic fixture as he is rhythmic. If there was any question why the drumming is so excellent, it is because the drummer is the very excellent and eminently melodic Warren Smith. Having worked with a diverse panoply of melodicists from Van Morrison to Bill Dixon, Smith sounds right at home with Jordan and Bankhead, adding to the music without ever unduly hogging the mic.
Together, these recordings point to a day when the saxophone trio is perfected, or at the very least exhausted. With so much music on these three recordings, it's hard to grapple with the fact that they are but a mere fraction of the trio sounds produced under the heading This Music, let alone music in total.
Available at Instantjazz.