Marshall Travis Wood, Bodywork (CD, 58:24); 33 Jazz -036 CD, 1998 33/35 Guildford St. Luton, Beds. LU1 2NQ Phone: (44) 0181 349 3059 E-mail: email@example.com Cyberhome: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/33jazz Bodywork is a suite of thirteen "wholly spontaneous improvisations" by three excellent British instrumentalists: John Marshall on drums and percussion, Theo Travis on saxophones and flute, and Mark Wood on guitars. The instrumentation alone calls to mind the stellar trio of Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, and Bill Frisell, yet only on "Ozymandias" does Marshall's playing remind one of Motian, with his drums flurrying deftly yet frantically behind very spare tenor sax and guitar. Wood displays a remarkably varied palette of sonic colors, from the gurgling, scraping, bubbling fury of "Speed" to the gorgeous acoustic strumming of "Olinda." Elsewhere, he plays crisp, clean chords, delicate arpeggios, dark volume swells, and whale-like, high-pitched cries. On the title track, "Bodywork," he belts out monstrous fuzz-bass power chords. I assume he's using an octaver, but on "B-line" I hear a lower-than-normal bass line being played simultaneously with normally pitched treble strings, leading me to wonder whether he's confining the octave effect to the lower strings only. (I've seen this done by Jack Grassel, the jazz guitar great of Milwaukee.) Travis is a serious tenor player. On "Speed" he burns solidly in a post-Coltrane mode - it's definitely "out," but you know it's coming from someone who can play the hell out of chord changes. His horn is voicelike and comical on "Gonzo," and his soprano sounds so human upon his entrance in "Quiet" that I looked in vain for a vocal credit on the CD sleeve. And check out the harmonizing, echo-drenched flute effects on "Olinda." Overall, this trio is remarkably in sync. The mood of each piece holds together seamlessly between the three instruments. They play quiet and formless but also noisy and chaotic; they groove solidly in tempo but also might tease you with the barest hint of a meter or pulse. Perhaps surprisingly for a free improv disc, a lot of this music is downright pretty, but not, of course, in any conventional sense. It's a breath of fresh, unpredictable air. Highly recommended. ~ David R. Adler
Theo Travis, View From the Edge and Secret Island (CD, 65:04 and 61:18); 33Jazz019 and 33Jazz033, 1994 and 1996 33/35 Guildford St. Luton, Beds. LU1 2NQ Phone: (44) 0181 349 3059 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cyberhome: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/33jazz Mediocre production sinks British tenorman Theo Travis's View From the Edge. The tenor sounds midrangey and nasal, the piano is washy, and the drums are distant and poorly balanced with the bass. Unfortunately, I'm not enamored of the writing and playing either. Some of this material veers a bit close to "smooth" jazz, and the rhythm section is not particularly adept at swing time. Guitarist Mark Wood's solo on "Freedom," a slightly unhinged mix of Johns Scofield and Abercrombie, is a high point. Things also come alive on the last two tracks, "Empathy" and "The Purple Sky," thanks largely to a different and better rhythm section. Secret Island is a far superior recording. The sound is fuller and the tones crisper overall. The percussion on "Lulworth Night" and "Waterlily Boogie" provides a polish that View From the Edge lacks. Still, compositionally I'm afraid it's nothing special. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" is a clichéd samba, "Three People" is a humdrum ballad, and "Details" is marred by that lackluster swing again. "Full Moon Rising" features John Etheridge sounding great on a fretless Indian guitar, but Travis nearly cancels it out with his syrupy sweet soprano. I really enjoyed Bodywork, Travis's 1998 avant-garde trio record with Mark Wood and drummer John Marshall. Some of the grittiness of that trio is hinted at on these two discs, but Travis's more conventional side wins out too much of the time. Perhaps his future recordings will reveal a more edgy musical persona and a more refined compositional voice. ~David R. Adler
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