HESSION / WHARF / FELL  Improvabilly  

[full press reviews]


"This is a set that stands as tall as anything in the formidable Bruce's Fingers catalogue. The trio speaks in a free-form language which has been part of jazz for long enough to have acquired a kind of repertoire status, and it no longer sounds especially 'modern' or disturbing - unless you're waiting for a lulling chord sequence to arrive. What gives it particularity are the superlative skills of the players. Hession has built his Elvin Jones influence into a kind of never-ending drum solo that is a masterclass in dynamics, propulsion and sound- painting. Wharf has a slippery delivery that he modifies across his three horns: pinchy and needling on soprano, blustery on tenor, moochingly songful on bass clarinet. Fell thinks at lightning speed: he changes tack, switches from fingers to bow, and plays for the others or himself with an alertness that won't hear of any slackness in the music. He's the best kind of virtuoso. Most free-music discs have occasional dead spots. This one grips and won't let go." Richard Cook BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE

"For those unfamiliar with Fell, he is one of England's and perhaps the world's most creative bassists and composers. Fell, like so many other talented and creative improvisers, continues to have a low profile, which is unfortunate as his technical and compositional abilities are both compelling and unique. That being said, these three releases (Axis Of Cavity, Thirteen Rectangles & Improvabilly) demonstrate that he is not afraid of taking significant risks in order to make absorbing music that pushes the envelope far into the 21st century. Improvabilly is a rollicking, sometimes chaotic journey full of stirring bass, rumbling drums and spirited exchanges. In order to expand his soundscape, reedist Charles Wharf employs a variety of instruments, including tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, or soprano saxophone. Hession's approach concentrates on intensity, power and propulsive, steamtrain-like movement, as opposed to colors. The power comes directly from his snare, toms, and ride cymbal patterns, like a whirlwind around his kit. Even during the quieter moments, Hession is a quick-fire sharp-shooter. Fell is a brilliant technician whose percussive arco technique is impressively displayed here. This is a frequently chaotic, no-holds-barred collaboration. The disc's opener, Between the Clock and The Bed, has the trio going full throttle with Wharf's intense barrage of robust tenorisms, Fell's arco gymnastics and Hession's salvo of thundering drums and cymbals. The Interior Of Sight is a clattering, diffusive piece where Wharf's twisting, sinewy soprano darts in and around Hession's swirling drum colors and ultimately, Fell's arco splendor. The final track, The Angel of Hearth and Home, begins in a more abstract manner, but the improvisations are knotty and typically in your face, despite the lower tone focus. Over its eighteen minutes, the intensity does not subside as the trio tests one's tolerance level. This is a profoundly thrilling ride, full of animated and fierce exchanges by brilliant creative musicians at the top of their game. Perhaps, like the way early Albert Ayler or Peter Brötzmann's trios can make one feel, this is the best of what fiery improvised music can offer; naked and dynamic demonstrations of pure passion and emotional intensity. Surely, this is a powerful ride that should be taken every once in awhile. Fasten your seat belts for this one, folks." Jay Collins CADENCE

"Described as by the musicians involved as "manic free jazz," Improvabilly is the first recording in 10 years by the power trio of Charles Wharf on woodwinds, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Paul Hession. Yet while it doesn't detract from the pile-driver authority of the session - or the trio members - by also asking: "is it just like the old days?" the response is what they probably wouldn't expect. Yes, not only does the sound compare favorably to other Fell-Hession trios like the one with saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, it also suggests the gut-wrenching eruptions of even earlier free jazz bands such as those led by saxophonists Albert Ayler, Frank Wright and Peter Brötzmann and the heyday of the new thing. Bringing that same heft to his solos on soprano and tenor saxophones and bass clarinet Wharf, whose association with Fell goes back to 1981, unquestionably makes his presence felt. But the bassist and drummer, who together and alone have faced off with such frenzied improvisers as Brötzmann, George Haslam and Paul Dunmall aren't fazed in the least. The only folks who may be shocked, though, are those who know Fell merely from his large compositional works or minimalist combos such as VHF. His playing and that of the others is as rip snorting here as it is restrained elsewhere. A strong example of this occurs on Self Portrait With Burning Cigarette. Here Wharf's Aylerian honks and R&B style intensity vibrato are met by speed-of-light bowed bass reflections with its share of yelps and a deep ostinato midway between Jimmy Garrison and Ronnie Boykins. Hession's steady rumble and roll sometimes takes in Sunny Murray-like outright banging. Ultimately the whole confection of raw excitement dissipates in a final nephritic squeak from the tenor saxophonist. Not that rawness is the end-all and be-all for the three. The Interior Of Sight, for instance, begins with about one minute of restrained bare hands drum skin and cymbal undulation, succeeded by the definitely non-Western cast of a snake charmer's plaint from Wharf's soprano sax. As the saxist moves into penny whistle territory, Hession introduces double stick manipulations and sounds as if he's playing a conga or doumbek. Fell's quick shift from shrieking high pitches to resonant lower tones keeps the rhythm steady leading to a mini duet with Wharf irregular vibrato matching his percussive rumbling. Then there's the more than 18 minute The Angel Of Hearth And Home which shows off Wharf's sideslipping bass clarinet approach. Quickly accelerating from proper BritImprov mode built around tiny gestures, he's soon sounding out a full-fledged theme from mid-range enlivened with the occasional chirp for emphasis. The rhythm section's shifting accents also give way to an approximation of walking bass from Fell, who braces the beat with guitar-like strokes. Bass clarinet twittering becomes more aviary as the tempo accelerates as Hession's press rolls and Fell's unvarying basso pattern encourage Wharf's dissonant playing to such an extent that between his tiptop high and basement low notes it sounds as if two horns are playing at once. Eventually you have a mental picture of him that resembles those photos of John Coltrane bending from the waist and blowing, as Wharf squeezes constricted notes from his solar plexus and you wonder when and where it will all end. Where it does is when he shifts back to mid range tones so you'll recognize the bass clarinet, before climaxing in repeated mystical squeals and painful sounding smears. "Is it just like the old days?" Well, perhaps with a decade of varied musicianship internalized by all three, 'it' is actually better. Hession Wharf and Fell prove that there's still plenty of effective forceful music that can be produced in a free jazz setting sounding a horn, beating a drum and plucking a bass." Ken Waxman JAZZ WEEKLY

"Simon H. Fell has his fingers in so many different projects these days - from his large-ensemble compositions to the super-silent IST to the hard-charging free combos such as the one presented here - yet he always seems to operate at a level of very high quality. With much of his recent activity being devoted to more compositional endeavors, it's hard not to hear this raging tour de force as something like letting off steam. Returning to these kinds of activities must be like coming home to roost for Fell, and the relative familiarity of this kind of context delivers its own comfy pleasures to the listener too. These guys hit the ground running on the opening Between the Clock and the Bed, hitting it with confidence like only groups this long-standing can. The general feel is muscular and action-packed, hearkening back to the sonic assaults of early FMP sessions. Even when Wharf is feeling more contemplative - generally on bass clarinet (check the closing Angel of Hearth and Home) rather than tenor or soprano - there's tension and energy to spare. But for all the heavyweight moves, this trio is capable of admirable subtlety too - hear it in the way Wharf sings in an almost fragile manner during the densest moments (his soprano turn on The Interior of Sight), Fell's attention to detail in his sublime arco work (especially ghostly on Self Portrait with Burning Cigarette and intensely hot on the long final track), or in Hession's unexpected moves (where, instead of rolling thunder, he clacks and clangs, creating noises that sound like plates being dropped atop his snare). It's an invigorating ride, from the vertical takeoff of the opener to the unpredictable descent of the complex final track. Perhaps this disc isn't as memorable as Fell's compositional endeavors, but it refreshes and cleanses like a steam bath." Jason Bivins SIGNAL TO NOISE

"Improvabilly finds Simon Fell working with two of his regular partners, the multi-instrumentalist Charles Wharf (playing tenor and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet) and drummer Paul Hession. The five long and brawling improvisations are named after paintings by Munch and Ernst. They proceed at a pace and volume that might be called "flat-out" if it weren't that the musicians every so often - at the end of The Interior of Sight, for instance - demonstrate that they've been holding something in reserve by kicking things up a further notch or three. This isn't music that gives a fig for such niceties as structure and developmental surprise: basically, each track is a continuous crescendo/barrage. What makes it work is the presence even among the most chaotic moments of a surprising amount of detail, of rhythmic and dynamic eddies. Paul Hession is in many ways the lynchpin of the session, and his admirably multidirectional work is well showcased on the sprawling 18-minute finale, The Angel of Hearth and Home." Nate Dorward CODA

"The modern saxophone-led power trio is a difficult act to maintain, not the least because its many permutations have been so thoroughly and vigorously exhausted. That Hession, Wharf, and Fell are able to exploit it for additional yardage is a tribute to the quality of their vision and their excellence as performers. Each of the five tracks appears to be freely improvised with varying degrees of intensity. Make no mistake - this is one muscular session, with the volume generally revved and a mesmerizing, bold quality even when the volume subsides. Wharf gives it some variety with his mixture of reeds: bass clarinet and soprano and tenor saxophones. He is impressive on all three, but perhaps because it is less-widely performed, he is most interesting on the former. Wharf can sustain a slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) building improvisation over a stretch of many measures, while Fell's bass and Hession's drums fill, jab, and seduce with equally powerful, thrusting clusters. The bassist is particularly impressive, with his never-ending attacks on the strings laying a formidable foundation. (Just hear him go in the trenches on The Interior of Sight.) One of the most underrated of contemporary bassists, Fell persistently and consistently powers from the bottom, bringing to mind contemporaries such as William Parker and Barry Guy. Hession, too, is distinguished by a disciplined tenacity that translates to a never-ending swirl of polished waves of sound. As a trio, there is an energized synergy that rarely lets up. Fans of Peter Brötzmann, John Butcher, and Evan Parker will appreciate the musicianship charged by an unabated electrical current that takes no prisoners. To be sure, some of it has been done before by others, at least in concept, but not always with the tastefulness and variety of this trio." Steven Loewy ALL MUSIC GUIDE

"They spare themselves almost nothing, all three bellowing, ducking and diving with good humour in five improvisations of the "European free" type, based on energetic catharsis and three-way conversations (difficult not to think of the torrent of certain Brötz' trios); each piece confirms that these areas do indeed merit further exploration, and tirelessly in the case of this trio." Guillaume Tarche IMPROJAZZ

"Improvabilly presents an April 2000 reunion of Fell's gristly trio with reedsman Charles Wharf and excellent drummer Paul Hession. It's an hour-long tussle conducted 'in a windowless, acoustically unpromising, dark, damp and smelly room on a small trading estate just north of the A505'. The recording quality is actually fine and the music makes its appeals forcefully. Wharf coils out serpentine lines laced with venom while Hession pummels and tumbles. Fell on double bass has deep feeling for tough free playing." Julian Cowley THE WIRE

"Bassist/composer Simon H. Fell represents a significant force within Britain's generally fertile improvisational scene. Yet, the artist has worked with Americans such as John Zorn (sax), Joey Baron (drums) and others, while also venturing into mainstream jazz and chamber frameworks. With this release, recorded in what the musicians refer to as a "dark and smelly room," the trio's freely concocted improvisations might be analogous to an action packed cinematic thriller. Besides the division of these works into sequentially oriented compositions, the musicians often work themselves into some sort of trance-like tailspin. Multi-reedman Charles Wharf pursues vertical movements atop Fell's burgeoning arco-bass lines and drummer Paul Hession's swarthy rhythms on the opener, Between The Clock And The Bed. They convey a noticeable element of intimacy during Enter, Leave, featuring Wharf's undulating bass clarinet work. Whereas the finale The Angel Of Hearth And Home, is a bustling free-improv jaunt, topped off with swirling crosscurrents and sinuously perpetuated rhythmic diatribes. Nonetheless, this outing denotes a ballsy cutting session to coincide with the artists' first collective trio performance in nearly ten years." Glenn Astarita ALL ABOUT JAZZ

"On Between The Clock And The Bed (track3 / 8'12"), the trio bears-down and barrels forward with (Wharf: reeds) hard-blowing, aggressively bowed, bow-struck, and hand-abraded arco (Fell: dbl bass), and rolling and splattering percussive impetus (Hession: drumset), which only reaches denouement in its last stretch, bringing to mind Elvin Jones for a brief moment.  The Interior Of Sight (track 3 / 12'59") enters quietly, shyly, self-consciously, wearing garments handmade by mother... her confidence grows, she accepts an invitation to dance and, tilting her head back on a swan-like neck, watches the wall paintings and wallflowers dizzily spin around her, her hair sweeping the hardwood floor... ok, I made that up.  What I'd like to convey is that Improvabilly is evocative, and the interplay and interactive/communicative chatter and murmur these gents generate is top-end!" Bret Hart THE UNHEARD MUSIC

"Here we have this recording of three masters of improvisation and experimental music. The CD starts with a fast tune with superb drumming and a lot of interesting experimental sax phrases. Then we have the incredible double bass lines that can be heard through all the recording (Simon Fell not only uses the double bass to create lines to support the sax melodies and phrases, but he also uses the instrument to create sounds that are beyond what one could think can be expressed with it). There are tracks that are more chaotic and others that are closer to jazz standards (like for example Enter, Leave). It is amazing how this three musicians can develop a lot of original ideas within a song format. This CD is a must for lovers of experimentation." MUSIC EXTREME

"While the long-standing trio's roots are firmly in the earthily amoebic and carnivalesque squalls and hollers of post-Ayler free jazz, they also take the moment-form aesthetic to even further extremes, paralleling the Proteanisms of Fell's larger compositions. The increasingly manic ticks, erupting from pointillism into violence, prove to be a blueprint for the session as a whole. Moments of extraordinary and detailed contemplation are often juxtaposed, within seconds, with high-volume high-density clatter and buzz that somehow maintains sufficient kick without degenerating into chaos. These players' joint vocabulary is encyclopaedic but effortless; Charles Wharf could channel Dolphy any time he felt the need, but most often history is only a jumping-off place for his multifarious bass clarinet and tenor sax excursions that dance and trill across the boundaries of contemporary improv. In perfect contrast, Fell's well-documented pan-spectral arsenal of moans, slides and squeegees and Paul Hession's percussion multi-timbralities provide a multi-linear Finnegans Wake dialectic to Wharf's more linear narrative. Fell has an uncanny ability to place each gesture strategically, spending much of his time in the highest register possible. The Angel of Hearth and Home, the disc's 18-minute closer, might be the discographically underrepresented trio's definitive statement. The depth of detail and the discriminating use of silence and understatement that usher in the track are stunning, Hession's playing especially poignant in its restraint - a cymbal stroke here, a bowed squeak there. His sonic pallet conjures shades of Rashied Ali (with Coltrane on Venus) and builds on Paul Lytton's more recent work. Wharf tongues airily, tiny multiphonic exhalations and staccatos - or are those Fell? Is he playing at all? In fact, at times, it's difficult to tell who's making each sound, often a sure testament to group unity. The build to a more conventional jazz texture is slow, precise, inexorable and deeply satisfying. This is a very fine offering from an under-recorded group." Marc Medwin DUSTED


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