STEVE SWELL — Estuaries (review)

STEVE SWELL — Estuaries album cover Album · 2013 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
There was a time when the term “avant-garde jazz” was synonymous with high decibels boosted by screeching saxophones and scatter shot multiple percussionists. Somewhere along the way, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and others in the AACM scene introduced the radical idea of free improvisation performed quietly, or at varying volumes. This idea of low volume free improvisation is taken to new extremes on Steve Swell’s latest endeavor, “Estuaries”. This CD contains 13 tracks, with ten of them labeled with the titles “Estuary” 1 through 10. The first two “Estuaries” introduce some tasteful pointillist interplay between the three musicians, but starting with “Estuary 3” and continuing for another 20 minutes to “Estuary 7”, the musicians perform at near whisper volumes. The three instrumentalists (Steve Swell-trombone, Andrew Raffo Dewar-soprano sax, Garrison Fewell-guitar) use their instruments to produce sounds not typically associated with their chosen axe. Much of this section sounds like the low buzz and whispered hum of electronic devices at work. All of the players show a lot of discipline and concentration during this interaction.

Things change up at track eight as the next three pieces consist of composed graphs for the players to improvise off of. These tracks are well played and sound like modern concert hall music. I’m reminded of that excellent series of albums that CRI put out in the 60s and 70s that documented many little known composers and their atonal chamber pieces. This sort of small scale avant-garde music is a fascinating miniature world all its own.

This CD closes out with three more “Estuaries” (8-10), although now the “Estuaries” are not as quiet and the musician’s improvisations reflect the nature of the three previous composed pieces. Overall this a very good set of improvised music performed with great taste and careful attention to one’s fellow musicians.
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