CASCADE / ARMACOST: Cascade. Green Doll’s Phone. Circuitous Route. Alawain. FINGER: Niemand. Waterfalls. SWARTZ: Courage. Bass Guajira. Good Ole Days. Now I Know. Island / IN Trio: Tim Armacost, t-sax/s-sax/a-fl/electronics; Harvie S [Swartz], bs; Christian Finger, dm/perc / Centaur CRC 3718
Centaur Records doesn’t really release many jazz albums, but here is one featuring one of my favorite bassists. I couldn’t discover on the Internet when Harvie Swartz just started using his last initial—the records I have of him with Sheila Jordan spells out his last name—but thankfully his playing doesn’t short-change us.
The opener, Tim Armacost’s Cascade, sounds like a New Age or Soft Jazz piece except that the structure is unusual, but Christian Finger’s Niemand is an atonal work which opens with Harvie on bass, followed by Armacost on alto sax with underpinning by Finger. In places, it sounds like a Mingus piece, but alas, it ends all too soon (only 1:25 long). This, however, leads into Armacost’s Green Doll’s Phone, an odd piece in an odd meter in which both alto saxist and bassist play the melody together before it moves into the improvisations, at which point Harvie sets up a nice walking tempo while Armacost improvises above him, now in a straight 4. After Harvie plays solo for a while, Armacost joins him in a sort of chase chorus (or couple of chase choruses). Harvie plays very inventively indeed, following which Armacost returns for his own licks with drum breaks by Christian Finger.
Harvie S’s Courage opens with the bassist playing in 4 but with the stress beats broken up irregularly, then Armacost comes in with the principal tune before they begin playing variants on it. The saxist really swings by the time they reach the 2:40 mark, with Harvie pushing the rhythm with his bass and Finger playing very interesting drums behind them. Towards the end, Swartz plays a repeated rhythmic motif while Finger solos in the foreground.
Circuitous Route has a quasi-Latin sort of beat and is played in A minor (with some transpositions here and there). Armacost switches to soprano sax on this one, and Finger has some drum licks which he tosses into the mix. The solos are again excellent. Bass Guajira opens with Harvie playing very high up on the bass, soft plucked notes that create an interesting ambience before moving down to his lower range. He stays there for a couple of minutes, playing by himself, until Armacost enters in the low range of his alto and Finger plays finger cymbals behind them. There’s a certain forlorn quality about this piece that I just couldn’t shake.
The Good Ole Days is a medium-tempo swinger with just a bit of a modern feel to it, played tastefully by the trio. At 1:26 the tempo suddenly doubles, but then returns to the original a few bars later. At 2:50 the tempo doubles once again in the midst of Armacost’s alto solo. Eventually it just becomes Armacost and Finger playing together at the brisker pace. Now I Know is a ballad, made somewhat interesting due to Armacost’s fine soloing.
Island is an interesting piece written by Swartz, opening with Armacost on soprano sax and the composer underpinning him on bass as the drummer tosses in some percussion effects (including a tambourine). The Swartz-Armacost duo becomes more complex and agitated, developing the music in tandem. By contrast, Alawain is a very complex piece with the rhythm distributed irregularly and both the bassist and alto saxist in top form. Finger also gets his licks in with some exceptional drumming.
In the finale, Waterfalls, Armacost is back to playing electronics while Harvie S plays bowed bass, again emulating ambient jazz but with just enough of a twist in the melody line and rhythmic distribution to make it interesting. Finger also gets an extended solo on this one, following which Swartz switches to pizzicato bass, interjecting some nice atonal figures.
This is an excellent album that should not be underestimated!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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