The Mark Segger Sextet Lifts Off!


LIFT OFF / SEGGER: Lift Off. Cluttertone News. For the Bees. #18. …. One Note. Slow Motion. Bassline / Mark Segger Sextet: Jim Lewis, tpt; Heather Saumer, tb; Peter Lutek, t-sax/cl; Tania Gill, pno/melodica; Rob Clutton, bs; Mark Segger, dm / 18th Note Records (no number)

This disc, available February 7, is the second release by the Toronto-based Mark Segger Sextet. According to the publicity sheet, “Much of this music was written in the two weeks leading up to the recording session, after a tour playing improvised music in Europe. Segger’s music reflects a wide range of creative interests, from the swing of Mel Lewis and his jazz orchestra to the genre expanding string quartet writing by composers like Bartók and Ligeti (heard clearly on For the Bees.)”

The album gets off to a frenzied start with the fast-paced free jazz piece Lift Off, in which trumpet and trombone play wild, dizzying figures in counterpoint over the roiling rhythm section. Staccato chords by the piano introduce a sort of stabilizing influence that slows down the pace temporarily while trumpeter Lewis plays above it, but then the brass duo, now joined by the tenor sax, come roaring back to destabilize the meter and pace yet again, and it stays that way through to the end.

By contrast, the opening of Cluttertone News sounds almost normal and tonal, with lush chords played by trumpet, trombone and tenor sax, behind and around which the bass and drums play asymmetric rhythms, the former sometimes plucked and sometimes bowed. Some of those bowed bass lines get pretty far-out, however, and in fact it is the bass that gives us the “cluttertones” in this “news.” The piece ends abruptly, in the midst of nowhere.

For the Bees may indeed be influenced by Bartók and Ligeti, at least harmonically, but the initial theme swings merrily along—until, yet again, it is that darn bass that interrupts the proceedings and takes us into far-out territory. I liked this as a stand-alone piece, but felt that the pattern was too similar to Cluttertone News to follow it on the CD. In the middle section, the three horns play atonal zig-zag patterns that cross each other in a sort of counterpoint, then become more amorphous in structure, clearly the Ligeti influence. The one problem I had with this piece was that the different musical influences didn’t really seem to mesh, but rather interfered with each other.

The next piece, simply titled #18, combines a nice, loping, easy swing with atonal figures, and again the initial beat is interrupted here and there for free jazz interludes. Pianist Tania Gill is heard here for the first time in a solo role, although much of what she plays seems to be rhythmic material designed to prod the band into further cacophony. The loping swing figures return here and there during Segger’s drum solo.

I can’t say why the next piece is represented by four dots in succession as a title, but so it is. Perhaps this is because this is the most abstract composition on the album, a series of little splattered notes played over the long, sustained lines of the tenor sax—and it only lasts a minute and a half. One Note certainly lives up to its name, presenting long-held, repeated Bs that overlap one another, with little burps of sound (also played on a B) from the tenor sax. Between you and me and the lamppost, I didn’t “get” this piece at all.

Slow Motion begins, actually, in a pretty uptempo, a repeated figure into which the trombone interrupts with almost comical low-range blats. Lewis gets a rare solo on this one, and although it becomes almost cacophonous after a while, I enjoyed it for its wild sense of humor. This piece very obviously took a lot of rehearsal to get right.

We end our excursion with Bassline, one of the fastest pieces on the album in which stop-time is used as a compositional device in the early going before it moves into a sort of stiff march rhythm behind free jazz cacophony. Little solos stutter their way out of the ensemble here and there, sometimes played staccato (trumpet) and sometimes legato (tenor sax), with the trombone playing something in between. I also felt that this piece had the strongest structure of any music on the album, thus the sextet clearly saved its best for last.

Lift Off is certainly a strange album with some very interesting and often likeable pieces on it, challenging one’s perceptions of jazz while taking some great risks. Definitely worth a listen!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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