Forever Sharp & Vivid, self-titled (CD, 59:42); LoLo Records 014-2, 1998 Hired Gun Marketing 730 East Elm Street Conshohocken, PA 19428 Cyberhome: www.lolorecords.com Forever Sharp & Vivid has released as its self-titled debut a polished and engaging recording that straddles the worlds of instrumental improvisation and contemporary electronic techniques such as tape looping and drum-synth triggering. The core instrumentation, drums/guitar/woodwinds, calls to mind Marshall Travis Wood as well as Lovano, Frisell, and Motian, but the sound here is less "garage" than the former and less jazz than the latter. Drummer/percussionist Chris Massey is consciously indebted to Motian, as is evidenced not only by his drum set playing on much of the disc, particularly Annette Peacock's "Nothing Ever Was, Anyway," but also by the inclusion of a Motian composition, "The Hoax." The whacked-out free improv of the body of this tune is pure Motian, as is the ensemble arrangement of the angular melody, which returns at the end after a strategic, brief silence. Massey is impressive on the exotic Udu drum on "Breath" and "The Undertow." His laid back 7/4 groove on "Gore" is a highlight, as is his keep-them-guessing stickwork on "Ascension." Guitarist David Torn looms large on the record. On "Breath" he plays acoustic, combining percussive slide stabs and down-home bluesy riffs with big open-string harmonics and suspended harmonies that call Ralph Towner to mind. The acoustic returns later in the program on "Godzilla and Rodan." The tracks "Gore" and "A Short Visit" feature Torn on electric with subtle distortion playing singing, sustaining single-note melodies that recall Allan Holdsworth and at times Bill Frisell. Threaded throughout the album is his ethereal, atmospheric, heavily processed and looped presence, credited on the sleeve as "various effected sounds." I like the low-octaved tracking effect on "The Hoax" and the wild, digitized decay of his notes on "Nothing Ever Was, Anyway." David CasTiglione (aka "CasT") plays hip lines and dark tones on bass clarinet and plaintive melodies on tenor sax. His mastery of harmonics is on display on the drums/sax duet "Fertile Crescent." He also contributes three strong compositions of his own (all the other original material is credited to the trio collectively). "A Short Visit" is a terrific, moody piece with a subtly suggested tempo; "The Undertow" is a hypnotic feature for bass clarinet and Udu drum; and the closer, "Fudomaio," is an ethereal swingscape with jazz-inflected ride cymbal and a pretty, uplifting melody on tenor. In short, this is very unusual and very listenable stuff. The collaboration between these three avant-garde veterans has worked, and one hopes they will continue to record together in the future. ~ David R. Adler
Robert Creeley/Chris Massey/Steve Swallow/David CasT/David Torn Have We Told You All You'd Thought To Know? (57:16) Cuneiform Records Rune 144, 2001 www.cuneiformrecords.com On this live disc, the trio known as Forever Sharp & Vivid (guitarist David Torn, reedsman David CasT, drummer Chris Massey) teams with bassist Steve Swallow, setting the poetry of Robert Creeley to music. The poems - ten in all - are read by Creeley himself. Torn's ambient noise pervades most of the selections, giving Creeley a highly abstract backdrop for his readings, although several tracks nudge their way into tempo, at least briefly. In some cases the tracks segue seamlessly, although many end with fades, revealing that the performance was heavily edited for release. The poems are generally short, although one of the shortest, "Words scattered," inspires music that lasts for over 17 minutes. (Most of the other pieces are less than half as long.) Dan Bailey's liner notes detail the fruitful relationship between jazz and poetry, going back to the Beat era. A handful of jazz musicians - Luciana Souza, Andrew Rathbun, Frank Carlberg, and Henry Threadgill, to name a few - have done recent work that furthers this history. A live performance like this, however, in which musicians accompany the poet in the flesh, is still rather unusual. While the music on its own doesn't consistently hold one's interest, it does lend a certain openness and clarity to Creeley's spoken-word. His closing stanza, in particular, prods us into a kind of infinite questioning: "Is wisdom just an empty word?/Is age a time one might finally well have missed?/Must humanness be its own reward?/Is happiness this?" ~David R. Adler
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