ALAN WILKINSON alto & baritone saxophones, voice
MARCIO MATTOS double bass & electronics
STEVE NOBLE percussion
1 - TREPID - 9:14
2 - SEA FRETT - 5:53
3 - ABSOLUTE XERO - 13:25
4 - SKZYPCE - 6:41
5 - KISSING THE SHUTTLE - 10:12
6 - SOUP SONG - 7:13
7 - I WAK ON (FOR JOHN LESTER) - 7:51
8 - SORTIE - 10:56
Digital studio recordings made in London
by Steve Lowe - 2003 September 2
Total time 71:55
All previously unissued
Playing with musicians of the calibre of Steve and Marcio is of course a pleasure and my relationship with both goes back a number of years. Steve I have played within projects like the 'Ubiquity Orchestra', a trio with bassist Tony Moore, and Alex Maguire's 'Cat O'Nine Tails. I have known Marcio since my involvement with the 'Termite Club' in Leeds and an encounter at the Antwerp Free Music Festival in 1983. In choosing the people to play with it was vital that there was mutual respect, and I wasn't replicating musical areas dealt with in my other groups. Also Steve and Marcio hadn't played together regularly before, and their evolving relationship is a constant source of inspiration within the trio.
Some years ago we recorded two concerts from a small tour with a view to putting it out, but it never got beyond the listening stage, which is a shame because I feel there was some really good music there. When Martin kindly offered to let us record for his label we jumped at the idea and decided to do a studio recording, the choice was ours. He was in the process of putting out our performance from the 'freedom of the city' festival 2003 on a compilation CD, EMANEM 4212, which provides an interesting comparison to this set.
Playing improvised music in a studio has its own problems. In performance, the inclination is to play continuous sets of about 45 minutes, inside which a tension is created by seeking out and developing new ideas and sustaining a level of excitement and interest throughout. In a studio that is largely taken away because it is easier to play much shorter pieces and develop ideas from scratch each time. It's a different process which can lose the exhilaration of that magic moment 30 minutes into the set where everything gels in an unexpected way. Process is part of improvisation. Ideas don't just fall out of the air, they are created. In making a CD the selection can be about how much of that process it feels necessary to keep in and maybe, for home consumption, the 30 minutes proceeding that moment weren't that exciting. Keeping an 'edge' on the music and not being overly seduced by the sumptuous studio sound also presents problems but can also be used to advantage.
After repeated listening I feel happy that we have avoided these pitfalls and, where it may not be quite as full-on as a live performance, that this CD certainly contains music which is different but still an equally potent example of how this group functions. The selection has been made from just over 100 minutes of music recorded on the day and seeks to give as varied a view of what we did as possible, while keeping tracks complete where possible.
ALAN WILKINSON (2005)
"Free Base consists of three of the most experienced and distinctive creative improvising musicians. Despite the fact that they have now been together as a trio for over a decade, this is their first CD release, although they can also be heard on one track of FREEDOM OF THE CITY 2003: SMALL GROUPS.
Live, Wilkinson is renowned for his high energy playing and his brutal tone; here, although he shows that side of his playing often enough (try the full-on Kissing the Shuttle to get your pulse racing), he is frequently in more reflective mood as the trio plays at a tempo aimed more at generating an atmosphere than raising the adrenalin level, as on the sedately paced Sea Frett. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security, though; the opening Trepid begins at a subdued stroll and slowly builds power and volume, before coming to a tumultuous climax.
Marcio Mattos' contribution is immense throughout. The overwhelming sound of Free Base, the sound that remains in one's head when the music stops, is of a deep, rich bottom-heaviness. Often playing arco, he provides a huge full sound that fills out the three-piece into something seemingly much bigger, grander, and very satisfying to experience. Steve Noble adds plenty of punctuation and colouration but is also happy to eschew freedom and play the classic jazz drummer role when needed, keeping a polyrhythmic pulse going on his cymbals.
With improvised music, it is intriguing to ponder whether the artists have played together regularly… and if so, whether that is a good thing. The freshness of a brand new combination can lead to high levels of creativity and discovery (as demonstrated repeatedly at this year's Freedom of the City festival), while established groupings can fall into well-trodden, familiar footsteps. Currently, Free Base seems to be getting it just right; these musicians know each other's playing well enough to have that psi thing that happens somehow, but they do not sound overexposed to each other. No sign of well-trodden pathways here, just freshness in abundance."
JOHN EYLES - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2005
"This is a studio recording, and thus somewhat different in approach and tone to the group's continuous live sets; an example can be heard on a compilation from the 2003 Freedom of the City festival. Here the emphasis is more on developing specific ideas with a consistent logic than on modulating between passages of tension and climax. On the longest track, the 13-minute Absolute Xero, the logic is sure and compelling; Skzypce is more playful, with Wilkinson vocalising through his reed and Noble, a long-standing associate, producing tiny scratch sounds. Mattos is as sure-footed and intense as ever, making use of electronics to expand his vocabulary. A fine and compelling record from a highly accomplished group whose members all deserve wider exposure."
RICHARD COOK and/or BRIAN MORTON - 'The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD' 2006
"This trio skip the dilutants of charts and tunes and instead burn down to a pure and potent expository core. Their improvisatory interaction avoids niceties from the start, hatching from a coarse, atonal source that stresses raw energy over delicate structure. Trepid denudes the implied timidity from its title as Wilkinson blows guttural gusting tones atop a sparse current of scraped and hammered counterpoint. Probing deep into the curvilinear metal of his baritone sax with expansive lung-fulls of breath, he fashions foghorn-sized girth to frequently gnarled lines. Fractured stop-time rhythms and punishing string-strumming from Mattos give the music additional ferocity and obdurate propulsion.
Sea Frett finds its legs on Mattos' electronics laced arco patterns. These collide with Noble's cymbal washes in oily oceanic waves, later ignited by sparks from the bassist's flammable, rosin-glossed bow. Wilkinson's ensuing multiphonics contain layers of muffled vocalese, tongue and teeth wrestling mightily with reed. Mattos and Noble take their partner's chest-puffing exhortations in stride and converge as a canny and responsive team. Each anticipates the others' intent with an intuitive accuracy that makes for thrilling, if occasionally injurious moments amidst the grind and clatter.
Absolute Xero unveils Wilkinson's other instrument, his work on alto proving just as piercing and pugnacious in its preference for caterwauling cries. Noble and Mattos respond in kind, erecting another jumbled barrage of string pops and cymbal crashes that leave behind both welts and bruises. But it's not all browbeating and gut-punching, as the three open up into a field of micro-level industry mid-piece. The drummer turns to small percussive devices and bowed cymbals in a manner akin to Paul Lovens, and Mattos coaxes rubbery fibrillations from his bass while Wilkinson traces straight-faced sonorities from his smaller reed, almost lyrical in design. Later tracks like Kissing the Shuttle and I Wak On reorient the action back to less ornamental and genteel blowing. Both are stops-pulling tours de force for more bellicose baritone flanked by stampeding bass and drums.
Lean and mean, Free Base works as the living embodiment of less is more and still remains true to the promise of its album title in covering all the bases."
DEREK TAYLOR - DUSTED MAGAZINE 2005
"They're a free-improvisation power trio that purports to a methodology driven by combustible outbursts amid patches of shifting patterns and more. Here, British alto/baritone saxophonist Alan Wilkinson projects a fire and brimstone element into these largely, forceful works. On baritone sax, Wilkinson sounds like he's sawing wood, reinforced by surging lines and rippling choruses. In addition, bassist Marcio Mattos and drummer Steve Noble counter and sometimes mimic the saxophonist as they all reside within the same plane. Some of these works feature Noble's snappy rim-shots, yet the big picture is built upon the artists' astute means of feeding off each other's ideas and spinning them into fleeting movements. However, on certain pieces the trio delves into introspective sequences, sometimes augmented by an eerie silence, marked by subtle hues. But the band generally finds a way to bust loose via ominously enacted movements.
Given the 'free form' scenario, the trio succeeds at sounding remarkably coherent and focused. It's a wake-up call for those who might be accustomed to listening to discordant blowing sessions that reek of imitation and aimless intentions. Simply put, the musicians' uncanny interactions, strong thematic developments and continual re-engineering processes provide thrills a minute. (Exuberantly recommended…)"
GLENN ASTARITA - JAZZREVIEW.COM 2005
"The INS AND OUTS succeeds very well indeed. Wilkinson's gentle temperament always reveals a different side in performance - a restless, rumbustious side that always seems just held in check and no more. Noble is the same, a genius at quiet play precisely because you know he's itching to thrash and crash. Mattos is an otherworldly figure who manages just fine in this one. His use of electronics, like Wilkinson's occasional vocals, brings an added dimension.
It's all there on the very first cut: tight interplay, a rich quasi-harmonic language and a deep, evocative pulse running through the text. However, it's not until the longer Absolute Xero that their chemistry really begins to produce some spark and fire. I loved Sea Frett and Soup Song too - much more self-contained ideas that demonstrate how well Free Base negotiated those problems of duration."
BRIAN MORTON - THE WIRE 2005
"Absolute Xero finds Wilkinson spewing out a series of irregular, nearly reed-melting pitch variations and multiphonic variations. As Noble pounds his drum tops and exercises the rivets on his pang cymbal, Mattos quickens his pace from slurred fingering to spiccato tones, eventually resorting to a combination of triple stops and string riffs. As animalistic cries fly from Wilkinson's horn, Noble proactively bangs his drum sticks together as if they were castanets and smacks single tones from the cymbals and the wooden parts of his kit. Appearing to be burrowing ferret-like within the kit, this resolution coupled with the bassist stretching and scratching his lines sul tasto serves as the climax, with a simple reed timbre as the coda.
Tracks such as I Wak On and Sortie show off the Free Jazz-oriented disparity of Free Base's conception. The former begins with a single boppish whack from Noble and swamping bass runs from Mattos, which sets up distinctive sonorous colouring from Wilkinson's baritone. Initially favouring a legato approach to the larger horn, eventually Wilkinson turns to reed-biting in false registers and bell-muting stops. Measured panting grunts that seem to emanate from his horn's bow rather than the mouthpiece, allows him to he produce two different reed textures and a satisfactory climax. Rubato low-pitched horn obbligatos, which despite extended timbres almost sound mainstream, characterise Sortie. Behind saxman Noble pops his toms and vibrates cymbal tops as Mattos quietly plucks his base. Then as the tonal centre shifts, the reed lines shatter, side-slip and smear. Sul ponticello sweeps and drum beats delivered with strength and passion are the responses of the other two. Conclusive penny whistle-like shrills from the saxophonist, a rare dip into electronic pulses from the bassist, and bravura floor tom ruffs and constant cymbal pounding combine for a concluding crescendo."
KEN WAXMAN - JAZZ WEEKLY 2005
"Alan Wilkinson, Marcio Mattos and Steve Noble use an instant performance setting for the development of a language which is firmly rooted in free jazz - if this definition still has a sense - and they are not afraid to let everyone know it. This trio washes away any doubt through intelligence and belligerency in a wide-ranging multitude of involving sketches; the squawking alto and baritone detours by Wilkinson satisfy the need for a meaty presence amidst a remarkably intelligible fusion of individual spirits; Mattos' engaging playing shows his full commitment, not only to this elaboration of openness but above all to an extensive, ongoing enchantment with the mirage of transforming the role of bass into a powerful lyrical source. Noble's drumming shows his understanding of these improvisations' complexion while elegantly remaining within the margins of a politically incorrect ascendance to pristine forms of self-expression."
MASSIMO RICCI - TOUCHING EXTREMES 2005
"There's a moment about five minutes into this CD where Steve Noble lets rip a pattern of snare cracks like gunshot in a riot; his colleagues get the cue and immediately shift up a gear, ascending into a stratospheric, free-jazz maelstrom of Ayler-like overtones, fluttering bass pizzicato, and breakneck, high-energy, pulse-time drumming. In short: it swings. Elsewhere there are ghostly electronic treatments from Mattos, and Wilkinson growls like a disembodied wolf spirit while Noble scrapes and scratches his way around cymbals and rims. But it's the moments when Noble leads his band mates into a euphoric race for abandonment that really stick in the mind."
DANIEL SPICER - JAZZWISE 2005
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