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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Dave Sewelson, William Parker, Steve Hirsh – The Gate (Mahakala 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

“The music on this record was a spontaneous and spirited effort of the three of us” (Sewelson, liner notes), and the three of them are Dave Sewelson on Baritone saxophone and bass (“William was generous enough to let me play his bass a bit when he was playing another instrument” Sewelson – liner notes); William Parker on bass, fujara (a large shepherd’s overtone fipple flute with origins in central Sovakia, which is usually plays in the contrabass range) and gralla (a traditional Catalan double reed instrument in the Shawn family), and Steve Hirsh on drums.

The use of such instruments of the folk European tradition as the gralla and the fujara flute in a classic free jazz pianoless trio gives it a twist and creates sonic environments that at times bring us in the realm of Don Cherry’s experiments.

The album opens with 'what’s left', a bowed bass, a fujara flute and a background drum that duets with the flute; slowly the three of them start a free but controlled flowing improvisation, then Hirsh is left alone while Parker takes the gralla and Sewelson goes for an energetic pizzicato and then leaves Parker and Hirsh alone. When he returns playing the baritone we are immersed in a stream of energetic improvised music that displays the trio ability to react to each other stimulus. The only thing missing by now is Parker playing the upright and we have to wait until the next piece to hear that. What’s left in the end is Parker alone playing the gralla.

The title track 'The Gate' is a 22 minutes long classical free jazz set with an inner smoothness that the three musician pursue in their (almost) relaxed interplay. I found Steve Hirsh drumming particularly stimulating and melodic: “There are times when I’m playing the drumset as if it were a marimba – picking out tones, following the melodies and harmonies that the other musicians are playing. Other times I might play in a more traditional fashion to create a reference point, and then deconstruct and rearrange the elements of that groove or feel” (from an interview on 

The dialogic quality of the record is confirmed by the third piece 'where we left it,' whose development shows us three musician somehow used to play together listening to each other, reacting and adjusting their output into a meaningful interaction.

The rest of the album follows the coordinates set: a single hint given by one of the players is developed by the others and brings the trio to explore new possibilities combining sound rhythm and melody. Just a final note for 'Slipping,' which is a perfect example of the freedom that a pianoless ensemble can offer: it opens with a drum solo, which slips into an energetic “tutti” then a break around minute five, introduces us into a groovy section led by Parker’s bass that here and there is leaked in by free burst of the baritone. The final part leaves Sewelson and Parker alone to slow down the piece into silence.

So the overall impression is that this album displays exactly what Sewelson has promised: a spontaneous and spirited set which offers many hints for sonic exploration and gives us the pleasure of listening to three inspired musicians playing together.

Available on Bandcamp.


joe.po said...

... wow! Great review, great session. Thanks for sharing, I hadn't it on my radar until now