LARRY STABBINS soprano & tenor saxophones
1 - BREATHING - 4:56
2 - SINGING - 3:08
3 - THINKING - 8:57
4 - BUZZING - 3:53
5 - LOVING - 5:25
6 - SHAKING - 8:40
7 - SLIDING - 4:02
8 - CHIRRUPING - 3:11
9 - TUNING - 4:23
10 - SPEAKING - 7:00
11 - BLOWING - 6:36
12 - DANCING - 5:10
13 - PLAYING - 9:18
Digital recordings made in London at the Red Rose
by Martin Davidson - 2002 August 18
(1-12 without an audience - 13 in concert)
Total time 75:08
All previously unissued
Larry Stabbins's first improvised solo saxophone performance took place over thirty years ago, 'Upstairs' at Ronnie Scott's Club in London in 1972, during Keith Tippett's 'Ovary Lodge' residency. Although Stabbins did go on to play solo fairly often during the 1970s and 1980s, in the decades since then he has been far better known as a group performer, working at one time or another with virtually everyone on the British jazz and improvised music scene.
What is at least as striking as the number of Stabbins's performance and recording credits over the years, though, is the range of musical forms and styles they reveal. He has worked consistently at the leading edge of improvised music, in the groups of Tony Oxley and Peter Brötzman, in many of Keith Tippett's projects, as well as in the cult indie-pop band Weekend and the Latin/Jazz/Soul melting pot of his co-leadership of Working Week.
In among all these partnerships and connections, MONADIC is Larry Stabbins's first solo record. The tenor and soprano improvisations reproduced here - in effect, a series of personal meditations - were recorded during an afternoon at the Red Rose Club, London, followed up with a short set the same evening during the Mopomoso Club event. The thirteen tracks have been selected from nearly two hours of recording, but have not been edited and appear in the order in which they were played.
The range of Stabbins's collaborations indicated above is evidence, in part, of the fluidity of the British jazz and improvised music scene - a kaleidoscope of working relationships and evolving dialogue between players travelling in different directions, between actual towns and countries, between musical styles, and between beliefs about how free music fits with contemporary society. For the solo performer, no equivalent dialogue is available between players, of course. Accordingly, solo saxophone improvisation can seem a more exposed, introspective and potentially austere experience for the instrumentalist - a kind of questioning or existential musical moment.
So, no dialogue between players on an album of solo saxophone improvisation. But there is dialogue all the same - dialogue between different conceptions of what it is to play sax solo. As you listen, different frameworks come and go, sometimes in gradual modulation between musical areas or approaches, sometimes in dramatic shifts as one possible kind of musical significance or development intercepts another.
Some sections - the first track of the album, for instance - have an apparent focus on capabilities of the instrument, including the fingering and breathing which bring it to life; they trace a kind of physical exploration. Such concern with technique merges, in turn, with a foregrounding of sound textures, itemised for attention or built into more complex soundscapes of elongated high notes (as in Sliding and Speaking), growling low drones, or the overblown sustained notes and edging harmonics of Blowing.
What might be thought of as other sections - there are no clear demarcations, and shifts don't match the simple movement from track to track - submerge such technical considerations in favour of expressing human feelings in sometimes forceful, sometimes meandering and whimsical lyrical phrasing - nowhere more eloquent than on the soprano track Loving. Others sections again seem to work more through a geometry of patterns, mutating predictable sequences, fluttering, trilling and arpeggios, stretching and manipulating them towards unexpected destinations. And other sections again - perhaps especially the final track, Playing - seem primarily to reflect on genre and form: how to start a solo saxophone improvisation? And how to end one?
The sheer exposure of an album of solo saxophone improvisation may be stark and daunting. But the experience of listening to MONADIC definitely isn't. Despite being improvised, the music continues to contain melodies and rhythmic patterns, laden with emotional as well as intellectual (conceptual) content. As in language, musical significance for Stabbins remains a matter of public agreement, of association and convention: meaning is only present when more than one person agrees it, even if what is intended is not necessarily what is actually conveyed to the external world.
What resonates from these thirteen short pieces - as much as the impressive technical accomplishment with which they are performed - is Stabbins's measured command of the instabilities of musical improvisation, opened up, explored and satisfyingly but not simplistically resolved, again and again.
ALAN DURANT (2003)
"One of the major albums of 2003."
PHILIPPE ELHEM - IMPROJAZZ 2004
"MONADIC is a fabulous, rare opportunity to experience a saxophonist who might regularly be mentioned in the same breath as Parker. Butcher, or Brötzmann, if only he were more well-known. Larry Stabbins is simply a monster player: his improvisations are as intellectually absorbing as they are viscerally exciting. This generously long programme, recorded in one day, both alone and with an audience, concentrates on, in the performers words, How to start a solo improvisation? And how to end one? Far from sounding like academic exercises, these 13 pieces take their individual lines for walks in the city, the country, and all points in between. Loving, played on soprano, has a gentle, even pastoral, character, while the nearly ambient breaths that form the opening minutes of Breathing, gradually shuffle and excite into a charmingly melodic jaunt reminiscent of Albert Ayler.
Singing, however, is an immediate throw-down for wailing tenor - if you haven't heard Stabbins before, this is the one that will switch your head on. The saxophonist has a corrosive lyricism, channelled through a very human-sounding tone that is utterly distinctive. The final track is a 9-minute concert performance recorded later the same day, and shows Stabbins extending ideas from the earlier pieces, with some jaw-dropping phrase articulations. At one point, he goes into a slow-motion melody that starts out sounding like White Christmas, then traverses such a range of saxophonic ground that you can only shake your head in wonder why you haven't gotten into this guy before now. This disc is most highly recommended."
LARRY NAI - CADENCE 2004
"The titles shouldn't be off-putting because Stabbins is too thoroughly musical a performer ever to fob us off with mere exercises. There are nods throughout to others who have gone down this tough road - Braxton and Evan Parker, of course, also Steve Lacy - but the sheer expressiveness of tracks like Thinkin, Shaking, Speaking and Playing bespeak an underexposed musical imagination. Time to hear more of Larry Stabbins, alone and in sympathetic company."
RICHARD COOK and/or BRIAN MORTON - 'The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD' 2004
"Though British reed player Larry Stabbins has been part of the free improv scene in London since the early '70s, he has never garnered the attention of his peers. Along the way, he has worked with musicians such as Keith Tippett, Lol Coxhill, Louis Moholo, Eddie Prevost, Peter Brötzmann and as a co-leader of the group Working Week. But this release is not only his first solo, but also the first release under his own name. The title is quite fitting. Philosopher Gottfried Liebniz defined monads as 'units of psychic force', a basic principal of being that mirrored the universe. This could be thought of as heady pretension, but Stabbins delivers the goods, distilling each of the pieces down to elemental forms. The opening Breathing, is a sheer abstraction of fluttering breath and long tones while Buzzing is just that; a study of pinched overtones and growls. Thinking breaks rising melodic waves with sections of skirling cries and Speaking dives from piercing wails down to the harsh, growling low end of the tenor. But this is not all strident going. A piece like Loving is almost rhapsodic in its melodious invention, and Tuning snakes smeared notes into a sinuous melody. There are shades of Parker, Lacy and even hints of Brotzmann's guttural roar. But Stabbins is a mature enough player to hold his own, using the vocabulary he has internalised over the years to create thoughtful pieces that display a personal vision. Between this and the excellent FOUR IN THE AFTERNOON, a recent offering with Stabbins, Tony Wren, Howard Riley and Mark Sanders, the reed player should be getting a modicum of the visibility he well deserves."
MICHAEL ROSENSTEIN - SIGNAL TO NOISE 2004
"Larry Stabbins is an accomplished saxophonist. Over the years, he has explored the realms of jazz, rock, Latin, and free improv, each project engrossing his style. MONADIC is his belated solo debut and a very convincing one, hopefully the effort that will give his low profile the push it now obviously deserves. Recorded in one afternoon at the Red Rose in London (without an audience, although the last of the 13 tracks is taken from a public set later the same day), the set consists of a series of musical statements between three and nine minutes in duration. Each piece puts the emphasis on a different aspect of Stabbins' talent. Some titles (Breathing, Sliding) hint at the focused exploration of specific techniques, but the music is always slightly more encompassing than what the titles refer to - although Loving leaves no doubt about the feelings that went into the creation of that beautiful instant melody. Some passages recall Steve Lacy (Loving again), Peter Brötzmann (Blowing), Anthony Braxton (Thinking, almost Ghost Trance-like), and Evan Parker (Shaking), but they are integrated influences or meant as deliberate tips of the hat, just atoms of Stabbins' resourcefulness. He clings to his sense of melody and rhythm without a hint of remorse, yet pushes his playing far into abstraction - witness the tuneless breaths of the opening Breathing, as if he was summoning the saxophone out of thin air, asking it to materialize in his hands for the next 75 minutes. This balance between soulful immediacy and mind-bending research accounts for the relatively high comfort level of MONADIC. Recommended."
FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2003
"Solo soprano and tenor sax improvisations from another of Britain's under-recognised sax heroes, whose first solo concert was thirty years ago and this being his first ever solo recording. Each of Stabbins' 13 pieces have one word titles. Appropriately, the first one is Breathing and it is made from long, breath-like flutters and drones which build and drift slowly, note bending only slightly. Singing is next and Larry uses his tenor sing with a joyous voice-like tone. Thinking is pensive and also unfolds slowly, a handful of pure toned notes at a time with a few high-end squeals in the mid section. Each piece deals with a different dynamic pathway or tonal terrain, balances lyrical sections with occasional note twisting squawks. There are a bit more tongue-slapping kissing sounds on Buzzing. One of the things I dig about this is the way there is no extreme honking or screaming, but he still explores some of the rich sounds which emerge of either sax. Loving shows some lyrical, melancholy elegance on the soprano, while Shaking gets that soprano chirping and spiralling intensely. As this great solo work evolves, Stabbins winds his way through a nice variety of moods and explorations which are engaging throughout. Nice to hear another British sax hero take the solo challenge."
"Larry Stabbins is a veteran of the British scene, probably best known as a member of the pop band Working Week. His discography is small, at least as a free improviser (disappearing altogether for a while in the 90's didn't help matters), which makes this well-conceived and executed new solo disc all the more welcome as an effective showcase of his talents.
The titles of these thirteen improvised pieces are drawn from active verbs; many are straightforwardly descriptive, and accurately so, but Stabbins' music is no mere dry run-through of a technical exercise. He strikes an intelligent balance between melody and extended technique, employing motifs he is obviously comfortable with and using dynamics effectively to attain an emotional content often lacking in solo efforts. He alternates between the soprano and tenor, effectively tailoring his approach to take advantage of the tonal characteristics of each horn. The first 12 pieces were recorded in the studio, but the final Playing was captured live - responding to that audience, Stabbins really digs in and plays with special verve. Playing contains one of the catchiest melodies you're likely to hear in a solo sax disc, one that stays in your head long after the disc has stopped spinning - how many other solo saxophone discs can make that claim? Highly recommended."
STEPHEN GRIFFITH - PARISTRANSATLANTIC 2003
"Though he has been active since the early 70s, working with players like Keith Tippett, Louis Moholo, Peter Brötzmann and Tony Oxley, MONADIC is soprano and tenor saxophonist Larry Stubbins' first ever solo date. In the sleeve notes Alan Durant makes a good case for the body of MONADIC being primarily concerned with Stabbins' relationship to his instrument, about what happens between silence and the first note. Puffs of breath and tentative spits well into huge bubbling lines and queasy melodic rings before puttering back into silence. The best solo saxophone recordings are invariably characterised by just such a deep sense of quest. But there's more to MONADIC than that. Moments of unselfconscious expression are borne more from the sheer joy of juggling shapes; communication via associative leaps are informed by processes beyond conscious thought, and as such some passages are just plain gorgeous. And that's nothing to be afraid of."
DAVID KEENAN - THE WIRE 2003
"This CD is a series of performances very much in the present tense, that is, he is Loving, Speaking, Dancing and eventually Playing among other things. I think that some of the titles may well be almost arbitrary whilst others, such as, Breathing, Buzzing and Chirruping are quite closely tied to the types of sound produced, the former being an obvious example, as his breath makes contact with reed and mouthpiece and the fingering of the instrument seems virtually secondary until the piece evolves into a hoarse series of incantations where breath manifests itself as a kind of primal vocalisation.
Whilst Singing and Thinking may not be readily associated activities they are closely connected here. The former may literally be a more 'vocal' performance where the voice of the instrument and its player appear to be articulating a type of song, an outpouring that takes the listener through the instrument's range. The latter is doing something similar, though it is in a longer, more reflective and sometimes blues inflected, mode.
On Loving Stabbins takes the soprano and produces an equally lyrical exploration that stands as evidence that solo performances can delve into emotional nuances and subtleties without any supporting players to add colour. This rings out crystal clear and full of emotionive charge, whilst Speaking has a more angular attack with clusters of fluttering notes and staccato flurries. He is able to place these abstractions easily next to the more romantic meditations of Loving.
Further abstract territory is mapped on Blowing which incorporates gristly droning alongside overblown notes and harmonics. This is the area where he pushes the boundaries further, though may be not as far as some, in creating edgy, metallic coruscations.
The final piece without an audience, Dancing honks, growls and sounds as if it might break into an r'n'b workout at a couple of points. But it never does, of course, instead it leads into the last improvisation, Playing, this time in concert. Here he brings together some of the techniques employed throughout the CD; from crabbed metal abstracts, where the sound of the instrument seems to take precedence over the human voice, to breathy fluttering and harmonics.
A CD of solo sax may seem a stark proposition but Stabbins humanises it and delivers a carefully balanced set that holds the ground between sheer technique and raw emotion. "
PAUL DONNELLY - JAZZ VIEWS 2003
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