Click here to [close]

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Laws of William Bonney Saxophone Quartet 1993 - 2007: self-titled (Acheulian Handaxe, 2023)

By Martin Schray

At the beginning of the 1990s Jeffrey Morgan, an alto saxophonist from Seattle, came to Cologne. In 1993 he, Stefan Keune (sopranino and tenor saxophones), Martin Speicher (sopranino and altosaxophones) and Joachim Zoepf (sopranino and altosaxophones) formed a saxophone quartet that was different from most of what had been heard in the field of free improvisation up to then - and in fact to this day: The musicians focused on sound production, but also on a high degree of expressivity. The challenge was not only to push the saxophone’s possibilities to its limits, but also to combine the different playing styles and attitudes of the different players into a punchy whole. On the one hand, it was all about musical interaction and communication, confrontation and invitation at the same time. On the other hand, it was also about violence, outcast status and ultimate freedom, which was also to be understood as a reference to the irony of the project’s title. After all, William Bonney was no one else but Billy The Kid.

As a consequence, The Laws of William Bonney - a collection of musical fragments from over 14 years of the band’s existence - still demands a lot of the listeners. Beautiful melodies are nowhere to be found, nor are uniform beats. Instead, a million different ideas and different interjections shoot out of every corner. The quartet spared no risk “often coming precariously close to the limit of falling off without ever losing the desire to cross it. Safe paths were unknown to the quartet, even though each of them knew how to contribute their personal and tested ingredients“, as the liner notes reveal. Morgan, Keune, Specter and Zoepf hurtle through the stratosphere and generate an enormous density of information through frenzied speed and subtlety. This is mainly achieved through the use of contrasts. Often, one of the four produces deep, dark drones, another swings off in a barely recognizable manner, while the other two fire away like snipers. “XI - 2006“ is exemplary for their philosophy of music. Here you can see all their artistic skill, which is never celebrated as an end in itself, it’s simply radiant beauty. It’s a pool of chirps, tongue beats, bubbling and cascades of sound, driven to a point where everything comes together. As a listener you cannot escape this pull. The music is exhausting in the most positive sense and relentlessly self-referential. When dialogical improvisation transforms a quartet into a kaleidoscopic wonder of sound, when saxophones transcend worldly boundaries, it’s like 45 minutes of fireworks.

Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the quartet remained an insider tip in the underground. It was avoided by so-called jazz connoisseurs anyway, because they regarded free jazz as formless and amateurish, but even traditional free jazzers knew little about it because the quiet sound explorations meant nothing to them. What is more astonishing is the fact why a label like FMP didn’t bother with this music, especially as they released a related project with Duets, Dithyrambisch by Wolfgang Fuchs, Hans Koch, Evan Parker and Louis Sclavis (although this was about alternating duets) in 1990.

As a consequence, the end of this adventure came in 2007. It’s therefore all the more welcome that the decision has been taken to make this forgotten gem accessible again.

The Laws of William Bonney Saxophone Quartet 1993 - 2007 is available as a download.

The album is also available as a CD. You can order it here: and here

You can listen here: