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Ron Brown/Lou Grassi Quartet: Scratching the Surface

There was a time in the early post-Coleman days of the “new thing” that even its devotees felt more performance editing would save the music from burnout. The prominence of long pyrotechnical solos in the overtone series became challenged by carefully constructed “outside” forays into sound textures, “sound paintings,” and the “free-bop” that somehow became derailed. These options continue in another generation’s interests in structural and sonoric detail, in provocatively fragmented narrations inspired by the AACM, B.A.G., the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and others.

These four CDs deliver artistic visions that depart from and return via differing paths to some of this fragmented spontaneity where surprise holds sway. The 4tet of Scratching the Surface, alto, tenor, bass, and drums, visits surging expositions on “Triangle,” featuring Assif Tsahar’s driving tenor, and “Unitarians.” Both “Stray Arrow” and the longest piece, “3 Rings,” are tempo ballads, with altoist Brown exploring the flutey possibilities on the latter. As you begin listening, “The Arc” has an almost ’50s West Coast quality in its studied lyricism.

For his CD, guitarist Andrew Cheshire, drummer Jay Rosen, and bassist Dominic Duval work impressionistically on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” Shorter’s “Footprints,” and besides Miles’ “All Blues,” “Variations on Nardis”; yet let’s not overlook their off-center readings of “Tenderly” and “Body and Soul,” infused with new personalities akin to Cheshire’s two originals.

Rosen, versatile in his tempo-changing skills, and Dahlgren, a potential bass giant whose flexibility and treatment of space are easily under-appreciated, anchor “Resonance Impeders” on which Krauss’s gritty alto resembles Ayler’s middle register, and where “Noodle March” and “Trolls” are in the Ayleresque spirit of a folk consciousness; so is “John,” a step away from the hymn “Amazing Grace,” one of several churchy performance allusions. Then, “Outback Bob” and “Pennies” show how animated Krauss can be. Somewhere, I failed to pick up his reed trombone, for which I salute his embrochure and dexterity for disguise.

I was anxious to hear pianist Scianni’s duets; his Savoy album of 35 years ago eluded me. By turns pointillistic and stream of consciousness, he converses with reedist Mark Whitecage (dreamily, as on “Moon Flower”), cellist Tomas Ulrich (check the vigorous “Blue Stuff”), a subtle mood with Duval or Rosen, whose crisp rim-shots on “Well Cooked” make a hand-in-glove performance. The CD’s organization has Scianni’s two ruminating solos following a series of twosomes and ahead of everybody for “Class Reunion,” where Whitecage and Scianni stoke the essence of their collective experience.

Originally Published