A Fine Intensity
Both Soul-Etude and A Fine Intensity come from an exhaustive two-day recording session held in the spring of 1999. With bassist Howard Cooper and drummer Ed Watkins forming the rhythmic base of this working group, trombonist Hill and tenor and soprano saxophonist Levin are able to relax, but that does not keep them from blowing with sustained abandon, occasionally taking off on some wild tangents.
Hill, who recorded with Sun Ra's erstwhile lead alto Marshall Allen on Out of the Box (CIMP), is a very good avant-garde trombone player. With a big, bruising tone and a subtle sense of humor, Hill takes center stage a lot, putting across his message in broad, indelicate strokes. Levin's contributions seem practically understated by comparison: he chants and moans soulfully, occasionally going on a mind-boggling multiphonics spree. When trombone and saxophone multiphonics are combined (as they are on "Brisk" and "Multiphonics Dream," on A Fine Intensity), it is a rare and exotic treat. Watkins' consistently interesting drum grooves do a lot to bring Hill's, Levin's and Cooper's compositional ideas to life.
Albert Ayler's influence is in evidence, not only as a saxophonic influence on Levin (who also references Eric Dolphy, Pharoah Sanders, Dewey Redman, Ken Vandermark, and so on) but also in the emotionally heightened feeling of the ensemble overall. Sun Ra's powerful influence is symbolized by the cover version of Ra's "We're Living in a Space Age," that is the first selection on Soul-Etude. Hill's influences on trombone evidently include J.C. Higginbotham, Grachan Moncur III and Ray Anderson, among others.