Kevin Norton: For Guy Debord (in Nine Events)
(Barking Hoop: BKH001)
Anthony Braxton (reeds), Bob DeBellis (reeds), David Bindman (reeds), Tomas Ulrich (cello), Joe Fonda (bass), Kevin Norton (drums)
Kevin Norton: Knots
(Music and Arts: CD1033)
Bob DeBellis (reeds), David Bindman (reeds), David Krakauer (clarinet), Tomas Ulrich (cello), Joe Fonda (bass), Kevin Norton (drums)
Norton is a percussionist linked with the increasingly fertile Tri-Centric organisation headed up, of course, by the great Anthony Braxton, who appears on the first of these discs. He's an accomplished player, but perhaps even more important are his compositional skills, which he shows off to the full here, and especially on the disc with Braxton.
"For Guy Debord (in Nine Events)" is a typically grandiose title for a jazz suite, if that's what it is. It's certainly what it sounds like, and its construction -- basically a set of ensemble passages and a mixture of scoring and improvisation -- only reinforces the impression. The music takes on various shades through its thirty-five minutes, but it's not pointlessly orchestral; indeed, Norton appears to have chosen a fairly conventional grouping so as to concentrate on the notes rather than the colouration.
The results are impressive indeed, and the music has no trouble at all holding the attention. Braxton isn't particularly featured; it's an ensemble record within which solos occasionally crop up, and it has to be said that one at least of the other reed players is so much in the older man's shadow that it's hard to be sure who's playing what. This is fine, because it's not a record about personalities. The personality which comes across most stringly is the composer's and, a close second, Norton's vibes, which make the opening reminiscent of (no faint praise, this) "Out To Lunch".
Having mentioned the length of the piece, it's worth pointing out that there's no extra padding to make this CD twice as ong as it needs to be. This is a good thing; there are far too many over-long albums out there, and "For Guy Debord" stands perfectly well on its own merits. One tiny grumble: it would have been easy enough to index the nine "events", which might have made the disc slightly more accessible, but never mind.
The band is tight and hugely inventive, so it's good to see they didn't just form for this piece; "Knots" finds them (sans Brax, of course) tearing up eleven charts by Norton and two old Monk favourites in extremely pleasing fashion. Norton's compositions are sometimes perverse, deliberately surprising things which everyone clearly enjoys playing. Heads can be lengthy and multi-segmented, re-emerging at odd moments, as is the way with contemporary (and particularly post-Braxton) jazz composition.
It has to be said that there's nothing astonishingly new here, but what there is is an extraordinary quintet playing unusual and often beautiful music. Ulrich is, as usual, a huge asset, and the front line are a powerful and precise set of lungs. The excellent Krakauer plays on just three tracks, but with fire in his belly; one wishes for more after he's gone, but the quality of what follows doesn't disappoint.