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Saturday, February 10, 2018

James Gilmore - Bag of Tricks vol. 1 (Out & Gone Music, 2017) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos 

When you try, as we on the Freejazzblog do, to support the small totally independent labels, you get to meet people from every part of the world. This way you familiarize yourself with the joys of connecting with other human beings sentimentally and in a collective way through music. You also become aware of this constant effort to do everything by yourself. The many hours on the internet spent “promoting” your art. Many times this amount of time is much bigger than the time needed to actually produce the music. What can you do though? Freedom does not come for free. It’s a constant struggle.

I've had the chance to listen to the wonderful releases by Out & Gone music following some nice coincidences. Having already reviewed Scratch Slice Jag by Jeb Bishop and Dan Ruccia, the only pattern I see is that there isn’t one. The same goes for this release. The musicians that participate (James Gilmore on electric guitar, Laurent Estoppey on sax, Vatel Cherry and David Menestres on double-bass, Shawn Galvin on percussion) follow an improvisational ethos that does not succumb to any predetermined gestures.

What surely stands out is their choice of including two bass players. Always a choice of risk, not too many great jazz recordings (Bill Dixon comes first in my mind for this) have followed this path. Being a listener and not a musician, I guess that this choice of instrumentation encapsulates the danger of grounding the music into the lower levels of sound. At the same time, due to the percussive nature of the double-bass, the general sound flow of a recording might not be flexible, unable perhaps to enjoy the multidimensional approach that other instruments allow. Thankfully, the outcome makes my fears go away.

There’s a constant discussion between the musicians throughout this cd. They certainly and willingly leave their egos behind, not so much during the process but right from the start. There’s a warmth in their choices, a feeling that is capitalized in achieving a collecting sound. Their work is collective, while the guitar of Gilmore stands out at some points, offering notes and melodies, suggesting other routes, contrasting the low-end path of percussion and double-basses. Many times I found myself feeling that the saxophone was the melody provider, it’s tone overpowering melodies. An ambiance provider, even.

Mentioning above my - so called - fear of the low-end sound, the percussion work of Galvin really stands out, while his bond with the bassists are clear even to the untrained ear. Their path is that of second generation European improvisation, yet there are also melodies. They follow a non-linear trajectory, while building the five tracks of the cd. They seem to work their way into each track with no preconceived ideas, providing crescendos like the one found the middle of the magnificent 'Live Up to High Vibration'. It is then, at their highest of volume that seem to be at their best with a solid –free playing percussive backbone- a gnarling tough guitar and a rawer sax playing. But tradition is not neglected too. 'House on Legs-Making the Essential Challenges' is more boppish with fluid lines from the saxophone and an electric guitar that pays homage to the guitars that shaped jazz in the 50’s. You cannot feel disappointed from all this.