Yoni Kretzmer 2-Bass Quartet – Book II (2015)

Yoni Kretzmer 2-Bass Quartet – Book II (OutNow  Recordings, 2015)

The Yoni Kretzmer 2-Bass Quartet Book II CD is an impressive recording by Kretzmer in his series of CD releases on OutNow Recordings. An apt description of this music is described on his website:

“Two years after their debut recording the Yoni Kretzmer 2-Bass Quartet return with Book II, a double CD set. The new album features 9 tracks with just the minimum amount of pre-conceived material so not to distinguish the spontaneity, but rather to act as empty, almost transparent, scaffolding. The quartet’s sound has grown and deepened as has the interplay between the musicians, thus, enabling the band to take greater risks and larger leaps of faith. Earthiness has become this groups trademark, the trick is to manage to dive into the pits of the earth while maintaining a certain clarity and vividness, as though seeing while having mud in the eyes.”

What struck my ears was Kretzmer’s ability to capture David S. Ware’s approach on the tenor saxophone. Ware was a big guy and he had a big fat sound on the horn. Many of Yoni’s musical concepts draw from the well of David S. Ware’s inspiration.

The configuration of this band is interesting. Most groups with two bassists tend to have a larger band, meaning more horn players. The size of this group is only a quartet. This is a novel idea of using two bassists in a similar manner as one would have two horn players in this configuration. I can’t say I’ve seen this with any of the many bands, I’ve witnessed over the years. I met Reuben Radding once when I attended a show at the now defunct venue, Zebulon a few years back. I have seen Mike Pride at a number of shows with various bands. Mike also works with Mick Barr, an electrifying guitarist from the black metal scene. Mike is the right drummer for this recording. Most drummers tend to be too loud. Mike provides the right balance of dynamics and good drumming for this project. I haven’t seen, nor met Yoni Kretzmer, nor Sean Conly.

The opening track is “Haden.” The music is gentle as it introduces listeners to the music we’re about to hear. It’s an easy going song. There’s little dissonance as is often the case with free jazz. Yoni is playing in the upper register but he’s maintaining a strong melodic sense. This piece is short, but, it gives one a sense of the kind of improvisations that will be heard throughout this double CD set.

Track two, “Soft,” is an uptempo piece. Most free jazz drummers do not play time in the same way as their traditional jazz drummer counterparts. It almost sounds like Mike is using brushes but that’s not the case. He’s using drum sticks and he’s right in the pocket providing the necessary support for this tempo. Both bassists are walking, playing the appropriate lines that define an uptempo setting. Gradually Mike’s playing starts to open up as Yoni shrieks and cries on his tenor saxophone. Yoni has a talent for changing musical directions, by the way he plays melodic lines during his improvisations. As the piece slows down, Reuben’s bass playing takes the center stage for a brief moment. The song ends abruptly, without any warning.

Track three, “Stick Tune,” opens with a bass ostinato figure. The rest of the band follows with a hard edge! Sean or Reuben is playing the ostinato figure while the other bassist is using the bow, making multiple sonic layers of sounds. Mike is holding steady with his drumming, supporting all of the activity. Yoni takes the lead screaming on his tenor throughout this opening exchange. The members of this group are very interactive, playing off each other. Yoni continues pushing the band, reaching for higher sonic extremes in a quest for nirvana. A bassist takes a solo at the 1:54 mark. It’s hard to tell if this is one or two bassists playing during this interlude. At the 2:55 mark, Yoni enters with Reuben playing the head. This is a clever way of inserting melodic content within the chaos. It brings order and stability to the proceedings. Mike is playing, lightly tapping his cymbals, using soft accents throughout this section. He does increase the force of these accents, moving them onto the drum kit. This brings even more contrast to the current musical environment. The drums start to become much more pronounced while the melody is being laid down. Mike’s drumming takes on a much freer expression.

As the music continues to build, Yoni doesn’t miss a thing. His playing takes on a shade of Ayler, as he leads the band towards the upper atmosphere. Now, I’m hearing the Ware influence in Yoni’s developing ideas. As the song reaches its logical conclusion, he returns to the head and simply restates the melody with Reuben. This almost brings the proceeding to a close. Not quite, they continue playing very softly and glide towards the end.

Track four, “Metals,” opens with somewhat dissonant melodic lines from both bass players. Their lines are atonal, which Yoni accents with his playing, creating a new musical form. The drums layout during this interlude, but provide timely support with varying percussive strikes, blows on the drums, rims and/or small percussion instruments. Both bassists are very active sonically, creating more layers of poly tones while Yoni screeches on his horn. This has an effect that tends to bring the players together as one. This space feels very airy, having an almost new age quality underlying the sonic mayhem. At the 4:20 mark or so, the music begins to alter its course, moving in another direction. There’s an almost call and response between Yoni and the rest of the band. The elongated space between these musical exchanges becomes the norm. The drums punctuate the music with continuing accents. The bass players begin to mimic this sound, using accents via their legato melodic lines.

One bass player moves on to the next set of melodic lines. It is spacious, allowing room for the new musical ideas to emerge. As we near the 6:35 mark, there is an exchange between the horn and the drums. The drums are in a percussive mode while the horn has abandoned his melodic approach. Instead, the horn and drums are somewhat mimicking each other. This exchange is quite unorthodox. Mike Pride shines during this mode using his unconventional percussive approach. This continues until the basses return at the 7:13 mark. Both basses are playing unison lines. It has a majestic quality as if taken from one of the great classical music compositions, using a large symphonic orchestra. The drums and Yoni maintain their bizarre exchange, as the basses continue playing resonating rumbling low bass lines underneath the mayhem. Yoni chooses to end this on a high note literally, while the basses are playing an eerie harmony. This is beautifully executed by all members of the quartet.

Track five, “Freeaj,” starts with a short drum solo or, rather, a single drum sound. The beats are colorful, African rhythms, and harmonic. As this nearly two minute drum solo ends, immediately Yoni, Reuben, and Sean join with Mike altogether.  The piece takes off like a race car at the Indy 500! They waste no time moving into high gear. Yoni is clearly in his comfort zone as he navigates the road ahead without fear. I get a Charles Gayle feeling as Yoni does his improvisations. Mike supports him with superb drumming, pushing the band to new heights. Both bassists are playing parallel to each other. While one is walking, the other is making mutated sounds with the bow. The piece continues to move along in a disjointed zigzag manner.

Around the five minute mark, the music moves as though it’s rounding a turn on the track. Yoni really extends his playing into the upper register, matched by the sizzling cymbals by Mike and a multitude of sonic phonics from both bass players. The group moves onto playing intense free jazz, until the music levels off and they play as if they’re either coming to an end or moving to a new section of the song. Reuben begins playing an altered arppegiated figure at the 7:03 mark, while Sean plays atonal sustained tones with the bow. Both bassists dominate this portion of the song for the time being. At the 8:28 mark, Reuben engages in a short series of trills ending them at 8:37. It’s very dramatic which made me think this might be an ending. It’s not. The band plays some more until Yoni returns with Mike and they close the piece by playing a short tumultuous coda.

Track six, “Leaves,” starts with tenor sax and drums. It’s isn’t long before both bass players join in and play long sustained tones in the low register. I can’t express how effective it is having two bass players playing melodic lines together in unison. It’s an incredible sound! Half way through this piece, the group’s playing takes on the quality of the two bassists. What the bassists were playing, the whole band is now playing.

Track seven, “Polytonal Suite,” has an interesting hook. The first bassist is playing in five four. He joined by the other bassist playing in four four. In the middle is Yoni, slowly mapping out the new template for his improvisations. The drums follow in short order, navigating between these two meters. This is the most structured piece they have played yet. It’s free but not exactly one hundred percent free! The bass lines are very grounding. However, Mike finds a way to make the piece sound a lot freer than it really is. His drumming transcends the boundaries imposed by the bass lines. Yoni stays centered in the middle while he plays lines suggesting John Coltrane. Both bassists are locked into playing their respective meter. The drums are very forward during this song. The piece ends on the five four line played by the first bassist.

Track eight, “Ballad,” is slow as to be expected for a song with this title. The slowness of the tempo provides much room for the musicians to continue their sonic explorations at a different pace. Slow is the name of the game. There is lots of space between the ideas. The flow is much more elastic here. Mike switches to brushes. Brushes change the texture of any song whenever they’re used. Not many drummers use brushes in the free jazz. Mike does return to sticks, later, as the piece develops.

The second CD features track nine, one extended piece of approximately twenty minutes. “Number 4,” starts with more ostinato figures from both bass players. They are quite engaging with this groove. Yoni is mimicking the effect of both bassists in his own way, although he’s playing twice as fast. The drums, eventually, join in, adding to this Latin flavored rhythm. Yoni’s playing is almost straight ahead, like an inside jazz tenor saxophonist. The drums don’t dominate but support the groove as it continues to build. I’m hearing shades of Archie Shepp, however, it is only a temporary phase. Yoni quickly moves on at the 3:18 mark and enters the realm of upper register horn screeching. This goes on at length until the two bassists stop, leaving Yoni alone playing this continuous riff. Around the 5:09 mark, both basses join in playing lines in the low register. This approach is similar to an approach I once observed Ware use on a previous recording. It may have been “Flight of I.”

From here, the low rumbling bass lines continue unabated until Mike enters playing traditional jazz time on the ride cymbal (6:43 mark). While one bassist is walking supporting Mike, the other is taking a much freer approach using the bow. Yoni takes the center stage and starts his improvisations at will. The improvisations from the entire group became much more active. Everyone is joining the fray giving it their all, until they reach a peak. The group playing stops while Mike takes a drum solo at the 14:15 mark. The playing drops off considerably after the drum solo. It’s back to the ballad approach for the remainder of the song.

This CD set was interesting mainly for the band’s use of two bass players and Yoni Kretzmer’s clear influence from David S. Ware. This band will continue to grow and make great music. If you’re a fan of Yoni’s other releases on OutNow Recordings, you will want to add this double CD set to your collection.

Marc Edwards, August 29, 2016