|Review courtesy of All About Jazz:
Trumpeter Herb Robertson has assembled a quintet of musicians associated with lower Manhattan venues for a disc by the ad hoc New York Downtown All-Stars (tongue fully in cheek), including altoist Tim Berne, bassist Mark Dresser, drummer Tom Rainey, and Swiss expatriate pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, for the reading of Robertson’s piece “Elaboration,” a fifty-minute suite dedicated to playwright Ken Pickering.
One of the first things that's noticeable about this music is how far it strays, despite traditional instrumentation, from Robertson’s freebop leanings, heard to advantage in his groups of the past two decades with Berne, guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Joey Baron. Beginning with a foray into piercing bursts of brass and reeds, visceral glisses from Dresser’s manhandled wood and strings, and Courvoisier’s game of ping-pong between romantic chords and Henry Cowell-esque clusters and internal clangs, “Elaboration” is off to a start that sounds more FMP than JMT.
Phrase shapes emerge, deftly muted trumpet approximating Dixon-esque slurs and bebop semiotics as piano, bass and percussion shift huge, cantankerous blocks of sound forward, Berne’s creaky, repetitious alto phrases joining in the fun (and sounding for all the world like John Tchicai on Misha Mengelberg’s “Tetteretet”). Somehow Berne is able to wrench a schizoid post bop solo out of the morass, vaudevillian singsongs and Jackie McLean melding in a gritty, urbane march as Rainey slugs away—until a surging tempo accrues, and the ecstatic screams begin. Dresser contributes a pizzicato solo full of double-stops and patented Jimmy Garrison thrum, choosing a traditional bass palette as Courvoisier’s prepared piano skitters about, plucked strings amid metallic blocks countering knocks and scrapes, growling trumpet and alto weaving a reddened cloth beneath.
Midtempo, slightly dissonant thematic material emerges, only to be subsumed by a stew of multiphonics and fractured time, Berne and Dresser’s unison harmonic duet broken by Rainey’s blocky half-breaks and Courvoisier’s roiling low-end piano chords. The latter is a serious revelation, her lexicon of otherworldly sounds ranging beyond traditional muted pings to an expanded goulash of microtonal chatter and masses of metallic sound—an extended, dense solo that recalls fellow Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer rides over a funky and dissonant, rock-like march somewhat incongruously, as Berne bites in and takes off, the sparse solos and duets replaced by orchestral weight.
That is, until the group breaks apart again into plucks and clinks, an ebbing tide of event and mass. The range of colors, emotions and possibilities engendered by this quintet is astounding—a complexity and freedom that is not often found in the rigorous structures of some of their compatriots.