My countryman Alastair Robertson’s Hep label, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, has reissued a lot of outstanding older material, including some radio recordings of Slim Gaillard which gave that merry mad maestro a magnificent later career in Britain (initiated by payment of a proper royalty cheque). Joe Temperley and Jimmy Knepper feature on some of the magnificent catalogue assembled over the years, and at the very modern end, Mr. Robertson (has he been awarded an honorary music degree by a Scottish university, like Bob Dylan was recently?) at least gets very deserved recognition from this New York trio. He sees they know what they’re doing and lets them get on with it unpressured.
This is one of those not so numerous issues which seems to get better as it goes on, and continues to get better when the player comes back to the first track again. In other words, they take a little getting into, John Hart on guitar, Bill Moring on bass, and Tim Horner on drums and percussion. That opener, “Runs in the Family”, includes a lot of runs on guitar within a trio conception very much in terms of “in the family”. Hart speaks of it as an alternation between 6/8 and 4/4. In effect, it works over a theme which is just a long phrase. The difficulty is to recognise the theme from what is being done with it, and the same question arises with what seems the even shorter thematic centre of “Not My Generation”. On both the electric guitar is played never loudly with the bass padding effectively and the drummer very active but not making a lot of noise. I’m not sure whether the bass is upright or electric, but the second title goes into something not too remote from a guitar duet.
Hart’s a melodist (among other things) not afraid to risk sentimentalisms; he can afford to eschew a more astringent approach because Moring is there to provide when needed, as on “Child at Heart”, a second voice.
If that title offset the excitement generated by the previous track, the following one, “Clone Me”, affords more contrast by opening with echoey, funky abdominal-noise guitar over drums and cymbals. The metre is 7/4 and the wah-wah (rather a surprise the playing here, after what went before) perks things up. The bass dances gently, cymbals crash, images of John Abercrombie and Jimi Hendrix flash by.
Then the rock stops, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is played with considerable harmonic fullness on acoustic guitar, keeping by the melody while working inside the rich harmonies.
Hart’s notes tell me that “Techno Prisoners” opens in 11/8. It’s a lively sort of thing, and its brisk movement with urging percussion made it somewhat easier to follow, on an early listen, than the first three or four titles. The guitar throws a fit of modest duration before the drum solo, and the performance closes with some less yowling repetition of the thematic stuff.
“Awakening” brings back the acoustic guitar, and this has more of a tune than any of Hart’s preceding compositions. Sounds more like the Iberian Peninsula, Spain, than Hispanic America. After having got more into the music of this CD as a whole, I still prefer a lesser degree of drift than these guys allow themselves. Here the rhythm is very nice, especially when Hart goes into long bendy blues notes at the end.
Ellington’s “A Single Petal of a Rose” has of late been a solo feature for Hep’s man in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, local man made great Joe Temperley. Hart uses this Ellington tune’s melodic substance as a basis for the development of tone colours, playing acoustic guitar with the telepathic support he and his mates patently try for all the time. This was the one which really intrigued on a first listen, and continues to intrigue to the point of making a note to go back and listen to it on its own well after this review’s gone in. Moring’s contribution here as a second voice is something this title makes me want more of.
The title track has a memorable chorded theme and belongs more to jazz in an older acceptation of the term. The spirited nature of the music clarifies the continuity of improvisational ideas, and those produced here are the most memorable on the album. “Blame it on My Youth” is acoustic guitar and quite folksy, almost on the lines of the ensemble which called itself Pentangle, long ago. The bassist’s entry as a second rather than a supporting voice is again very telling.
I do get the idea that these guys are trying to do something very difficult of achievement, though seldom if ever waiting for things to happen in a way which inclines some listeners to some other improvisers to look rather anxiously at their watches. Drummers in this sort of music have to keep hoping that they won’t need to cover up sometime when actually nothing is happening and nobody’s going anywhere. Being thus on his toes, Tim Horner does ensure that everything stays duly dynamic.
The closer is called “The Thing” and is indeed a monster—Hart is at the echoey electric free improvisation—and without 50-odd minutes’ previous experience of these three the suspicion might arise that not only the listener was lost. Key being a term with its own longstanding meaning in music, I have to say that there is throughout a sort of “hunt the cipher” about this date. Whether or not listening to “The Thing” will ever yield one is a question which has to be postponed for a year or two, assuming there would be enough free time over the period to allow enough listening. I suspect the three men played this without too much thought of anything but mutual interaction. Or was there enough thought of anything other than their interaction? They do seem to be going somewhere, and the function Hart says “The Thing” serves at live gigs may not be that easily discharged on disc. To perform it presumably requires simultaneous audience feedback and the whole previous experience of a concert and an audience, all by way of input. Reviewers have to expect to have arrived too late.