TWINE FOREST / SANCHEZ: Cones of Chrome. Veinular Rub. Retinal Sand. Echolocation. Light Black Birds. Twine Forest. In the Falls Of. Ultimate Causes / Angelica Sanchez, pianist; Wadada Leo Smith, trumpeter / Clean Feed Records CF287, download for 40¢ here
After having reviewed Wadada Leo Smith’s new recording, America’s National Parks, I started exploring some of his other recent albums and ran across this one, made in 2013. Here he works in tandem with Angelica Sanchez, the pianist for his Organic Ensemble at the time. This was her fifth album, and it is clearly a winner.
Interestingly, I listened to this album immediately after reviewing Anna Webber’s Binary CD, and there is a great deal in common between them, mostly in the free rhythmic pulse and ambiguous harmonic base, but oddly enough I found that the individual pieces on Twine Forest coalesced more into real pieces and were not so much blueprints that were paginated incorrectly. Yes, there is a time and place for Webber’s crazy-quilt style of modern jazz, but as someone who prefers an orderly progression, this music pleased me more. I’m sure that there is very little here that was written out and quite a bit that is improvised, but what emerges are truly brilliant and interesting pieces, even when, as in Retinal Sand, the opening trumpet playing sounds like nothing so much as fragmented bleeps and bloops of sound. I think you can ascribe it to the fact that Smith is primarily a composer despite his trumpet prowess, thus he always thinks in terms of where the music is going even when he’s winging it.
Sanchez sometimes seems willing to follow Smith’s patterns even when her own playing is highly imaginative. In Retinal Sand this includes playing the strings of the piano as well as the keys. I also think it helps that the music stays grounded, for long stretches, in A major, moving to A-flat. Sometimes having a frame of reference to work with helps the listener follow what’s going on in otherwise free-form music. Even someone like Ornette Coleman, who often worked in bitonal environments, generally had frames of reference within his music. Veinular Rub, which opens in E major, features a generally lyric approach to free jazz, with Smith holding long notes on muted trumpet while Sanchez plays interesting figures around him, occasionally interjecting an occasional contrabass low E on the keyboard. Eventually she stays down in the low bass range, then shifts the key to E-flat for a more lyrical solo. Smith plays more wildly here, eventually spitting and breathing notes out of his horn, as Sanchez sounds as if she is brushing the strings of the piano with her fingernails!
Echolocation lives up to its title, with Smith (again) playing apparently dislocated notes on his horn while Sanchez provides the chording. This quickly morphs into a somewhat more melodic pattern on trumpet while Sanchez meanders a bit in E-flat, then establishes G as the key for a more lyrical, less staccato Smith solo. Here is where the echo effects again come in, with Sanchez plucking single strings on her instrument to bounce off Smith’s open horn solo. This actually becomes a very beautiful track, one of the most lyrical I’ve yet heard within the free jazz style.
Light Black Birds begins with Sanchez playing one of the most fragmented themes on this set, decidedly modal in harmony and sounding like an out-take from George Russell’s Jazz in the Space Age. Smith, on the other hand, enters in a decidedly melodic vein, establishing E-flat as the home key and staying there for some time, with Sanchez producing rich chords around Smith’s still lyrical but more harmonically adventurous solo. Then the rhythm picks up, initially in the keyboard, before ending quietly on an unresolved chord.
Twine Forest is perhaps the most difficult and fragmented piece on this recital to follow, but since both musicians are old hands at tying loose ends together and making something constructive of them, following their musical conversation—it’s not really a chase chorus in the traditional sense—one eventually finds a path through their musical maze. Smith employs some interesting “buzzing” on the mouthpiece at one point, and somehow makes it fit in, as he does a little later on with some lip vibrato. One thing that intrigued me is how the two musicians even found places to stop and start together in synch with each other. Eventually this “twine forest” becomes smooth and clear, riding off into the sunset.
In the Falls Of begins with a lyrical motif played by Smith and somewhat busier figures played by Sanchez, single-note style, beneath him. This dialogue continues for some time, making this the quietest and most lyrical track on the album. Indeed, by the 3:20 mark the music has become so calm as to barely move across one’s mind like slow ripples in a lake. Oddly enough the last track, Ultimate Causes, sounds at first like an extension of the previous one, as if the two compositions were composed at roughly the same time from similar material. The difference is that the latter piece becomes much busier, with both Smith and Sanchez working out multiple figures and rhythms individually and together, somehow managing, once again, to make it coalesce into a whole. This is even true in the latter section of the piece when the playing becomes quite agitated, before falling back into a relaxed tempo with an almost quasi-Spanish-sounding motif.
This is a simply remarkable album and one that I recommend highly.
—© 2016 Lynn René Bayley