Painting Breath, Stoking Fire
At a performance during their U.S. tour this summer, saxophonist Avram Fefer and pianist Bobby Few took Charles Mingus' "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk" on an extended journey from the blues to outer space and back. Kindred Spirits includes the Mingus tune, but like the readings of Ellington and Monk that fill out the album, the approach leans more toward the traditional. The free blowing appears on its twin release, Heavenly Places.
Few, once a member of Steve Lacy's Paris sextet, plays with an authoritative sound that creates rich swirls of melody. That partially explains why tracks like "Come Sunday" and "Ask Me Now" come across with a vital spark and don't sound like polite homage. Even when playing it straight, Fefer's beefy tone sounds strong, and it's almost a shame that his Coltrane-esque ballad "Kingdom Come" gets two just readings (one on clarinet, one on tenor) with no blowing.
"Heavenly Places" appears on both the album that bears its name and on Kindred Spirits. The former version stretches out for 17 minutes and finds the duo sustaining a focus and rapport even as they push outward. This approach holds true on the other two lengthy tracks: "Happy Hour," in which Fefer works his way through tenor, soprano and clarinet, showing individual styles on each, and an improv that segues into yet another brief statement of "Kingdom Come."
Fefer wrote an extended suite that appears on Painting Breath, Stoking Fire, with bassist Michael Bisio. Playing bass clarinet and flute as well as his trusty tenor, Few arranges combinations of between two and four different compositions per track. Moments like the unison bass clarinet and bass theme of "BC Reverie/Inner Child" evoke the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Paris days, and this element of fun continues through the album.