Patrick Brennan's Sonic Openings Under Pressure

The Drum Is Honor Enough


Hilliard Green - bass Steve Swell - trombone Patrick Brennan - alto saxophone Newman Baker - drums


CIMP is that very special Amercan label which forages for good improvised Jazz wherever it can be found and damn the commercial consequences. I'd like to think the more forward-thinking of us shop this label like we used to do ECM. Bob Rusch is again to be complimented for providing great musicians with a place for them to advance their art, keep out of their way while they're doing that and then releasing the results with a minimum of editing.

That said, I have to admit that the fourth Patrick Brennan's Sonic Openings isn't entirely my bag. Artistic freedom is (among many other things) the freedom to put out what music pleases you at that time, hoping to communicate with a theoretical audience somewhere, and to hell with what the critics think. Thankfully and obviously! But this CD appears to be doing something I don't follow too well. Brennan has a tart alto tone, he only wigs into the upper register when he feels he has to, and there's a welcome bluesiness to many of his angular melodies (especially at many points in the mult-part "Permeations Gumvindaboloo"). Sad to say, he and Steve Swell do not appear to be interlocking very well much of the time on these five pieces. When improvising simultaneously, as after the head in "Hot Red," Swell and Brennan sound like two men having an argument, interrupting one another repeatedly. The idea of musical instruments relating to one another as if conversing (not taking into consideration just now that all music is a sort of 'conversation' anyway) is well known and no spring chicken; Vivaldi did it in his Concertos Grosso. But there are few sparks struck in these passages that I can hear. That may not have been what they had in mind, but still... Solo passages are better, such as one of Swell's in "Permeations": with a loose color field to draw from, he takes on the studio hum with his usual gusto, and raises the temperature dramatically. Hill Green (known to me from Dave Douglas' SANCTUARY band, among many other groupings) and Baker are breathtaking in their interplay and their own solo space. At one point in "Permeations" Baker shadows Brennan 16th-note-for-16th-note like Billy Cobham did McCoy Tyner on Tyner's early '70s release on Milestone, FLY WITH THE WIND. No mean feat! Green is concise and swinging in a 21st century fashion, as ever. His manipulation of time, when the charts allow it, is a lot of fun to hear (like the double-speed bowing later on in "Shadow Doin' ", also heating things up).

Even so, tempos often come off too 'largo' [why follow "Shadow Doin' ", a slow blues a la Ornette Coleman, which often appears not evocative enough of 'the feelin', with another one ('Rough Hue")? And then another ("Drums Not Bombs")?Though Swell's flutters over Brennan's held tones in the former are worth a listen] or too offhand. The 'conversational' approach to this material simply strikes me as needing more forward motion. But if you keep listening you do hear manipulations of the very plastic beat, you do hear Swell and Baker boiling that pot... in the end, I have to conclude that THE DRUM IS HONOR ENOUGH is a reimagining of blues forms in a freer format. Late in "Rough Hue" everything finally comes together, though: the instruments coalesce and become a whole, streaming one musical statement from four directions. Not bad! The head of "Drums Not Bombs" has a loose 'Elton Dean's Ninesense' kind of feel to it, the low-speed tempo notwithstanding. And three minutes into "Drums," listen for the bouncy section wherein Swell steps out, Green and Baker cushioning his explorations in a jogging time. Very nice. Brennan is also to be complimented for a lengthy liner essay about his musical theories and a few other thoughts as well ("Music may be free, but musicians work very hard for it, and they have to eat too." Yowza; that puts the 1960s hoo-hah that surrounded the Isle of Wight festival and the recent file-copying/CD-burning/screw-the-artist-but-don't-say-so-out-loud controversies in very strong bas-relief. Well done!)

This CD may be more your thing than it was mine: dynamically reflective, exploring blues ideas in an often arresting fashion, easily conversational in approach with some fireworks. Your call.

by Kenneth Egbert

Jazz Now Interactive November 2004 Vol 14 No. 7 - Table of Contents

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