Don’t you dare to call this advertising, but bassist Nick Stephens’ imprint publishes some of the finest jazz-tinged improvisation around, in this case explicated by three different lineups of his ensemble Calling Signals plus a duo and a trio. Check for yourselves, and celebrate the existence of musicians who still manage to combine first-rate technical means with new-fangled creativity.
CALLING SIGNALS 08 – From Cafe Oto
Frode Gjerstad (clarinets, alto sax), Lol Coxhill (soprano sax), Nick Stephens (acoustic bass), Paal Nilssen-Love (percussion). The ethical face of free interplay signified by a constant alternance of righteousness and slight irony, all the while renouncing to the typical frippery adorning the nothingness of self-aggrandizement. The reed duo reaches several peaks of invention through safety-jeopardizing intersections that systematically repay the inquisitive listener’s longing for mettlesome improvisational consanguinity. Stephens applies uncompromising rewordings during concentrated low-frequency surveillances on the proceedings, Nilssen-Love fights the imprisonment of a groove and the obviousness of swing with his entire forces. The quieter sections are even richer in aurally gratifying reflections and top-quality reciprocation of imaginative intents.
FRODE GJERSTAD / NICK STEPHENS / LOUIS MOHOLO-MOHOLO – Quiddity
Quiddity is about the weightiness of imaginative gestures across large spaces, occupied with acoustic charisma and venturesome polyvalence. Only rarely this writer has appreciated such a refined demonstration of insightful drumming like the one Moholo-Moholo gifts us with here, holding the horses at all times but still able to etch the trio’s overall image with the incisiveness typical of master instrumentalists. Stephens pushes and pulls, fighting a little then embracing the rotundity of his bass to buy some precious time, generating snapping vibrancy, arco fibers and unaccommodating vamps as the lone temporary implementer of hypothetical schemes amidst the general autonomy. Gjerstad safeguards the dissident aspects of reed-based linearity, fragments and spurts always managing to sound somewhat poetic, devoid as they are of trendy pollutions and easy solutions.
CALLING SIGNALS 07 – From Cafe Sting
Norwegian live set recorded a week after Quiddity, following a dangerous boat trip across a fjord in severe weather conditions. Besides the original trio we have a new orchestral element in the guise of accordionist Eivind One Pedersen, who furnishes the music with a prosperity of salubrious harmonic ambiguity enriched by stimulating clusters, working nicely within the wavering frameworks generated by the drums and the bass. Stephens exhibits figurations that growl and murmur, pumping oxygen into the communal tissue, elsewhere plucking single notes of positive circumspection. Moholo-Moholo seems to release the energies and fears accumulated during the above mentioned boat adventure, disassembling patterns and pulses by the dozen. When he’s not probing the insides of self-reflection, Gjerstad looks for precious upper partials, chaining them in garlands of irrational subtlety. A coexistence of solitary wanderers producing collective materials that sound both optimistically assertive and thoroughly consistent.
CALLING SIGNALS 09 – A Winter’s Tour
Stephens, Gjerstad and Nilssen-Love are here captured in the company of trombonist Jon Corbett during a set that – judging by the brief liners and the track titles (“Nine Souls” and “Five Souls (Plus The Barman)” – was not seen by many. The few attendants were treated with the same unbending principles and respect characterizing all that gets published on this label. The querulous dissemination of anti-melodic commodities by Corbett and Gjerstad are pure joy for initiated ears, their cleverly challenging dialogues surely constituting the disc’s most conspicuous feature. Nilssen-Love displays the reasons for which the settlement of a drummer into a mere “jazz canon” equals killing any potential originality; irrepressible fantasy and absolute control on the infinitesimal subdivisions of a theoretical tempo strike like the bright colours of a summer beach’s umbrellas. Stephens confirms a substantial authority as far as the lower regions of the sonic spectrum are concerned; the sternness of his articulations – even when he seriously hits the strings to generate ungallant thuds – remains the source from which the whole flow of communication starts and, ultimately, the firm ground to base everything else on.
FRED LONBERG-HOLM / NICK STEPHENS – Attic Antics
Significance transpires from every pore of this wonderful body of strung acuity. Three improvisations that – besides the comprehensible expectancy given by the participant’s renown – confirm the validity of the theory according to which the finest music comes out of episodes that seem deprived of any root – stylistic, conceptual and possibly technical. Still, it is impossible not to notice the pair’s physical sensibility, their incredible keenness to keep things at the margins of anything that could be remotely associated to concepts of “tonality”. The oscillation of the pitches, the systematic use of glissando, the unintentional adjacencies eliciting implausible chords whose components were not really meant to exist at that moment; all of this is complemented by the equally absorbing work of the right hand’s fingers, and by impulsive pseudo-grooves stippled by gravelly snarls and illegitimate drones. An exercise in instantaneous composition that sounds like the meeting of two self-restrained enlightened anarchists. Attractive even for the not conversant. Well, maybe.