The Nu Band: Live At The Bop Shop (2002)
"Nu" is an apt term for the group leading this adventurous live outing. It's the first time these four veteran players have joined forces. It's only the second release on the new Portuguese Clean Feed label. And it documents the quartet's third (!) performance. "Nu" indeed.
But there's nothing new about these musicians. Each has his own history deep in the roots of the free/energy music continuum, and all have shared musical connections at one point or another along the way. What sets the group apart is its fresh, energetic approach to improvisationand in a live setting, there's no reason to hold back.
The opener, saxophonist Mark Whitecage's "Court Street," is a massive 20 minute-long affair. Whitecage leads off with a solo consisting of brief motifs expanded and developed over time. Bassist Joe Fonda joins in to make it a duet, at first whispering quietly in the back with arco gestures, and then settling in for some pointed commentary. Soon the tune adopts collective energy, each player lending his voice to open, spirited conversation. Whitecage and Campbell blow sharp and hard.
Midway through, "Court Street" falls into a perky swing, loping along an upbeat melody. That melody continues to define the rest of the piece. After few minutes of introspection, the Nu Band returns to emitting intense energy. It's quite a voyage.
Skip past "Fast," whose pace you can imagine (and which becomes abundantly clear early on when Fonda repeatedly shouts out the title). The Nu Band slips into quiet, dark territory on "Gone Too Soon," which has an sparse, simmering feel. For about seven minutes, notes come in handfuls, muted and stretched. The rhythm section shines heredrummer Lou Grassi playing lightly on the deep drums and connecting quite intuitively with Fonda's own ostinato rumblings.
As a whole, Live has exactly the kind of freshness that listeners might expect from the personalities who form the Nu Band collective. Due to the nature of the performance, it's a long-term kind of thing. (Be patient.) Occasionally solos ramble a bit (especially from Roy Campbell's horn), but that's the price of taking a few risks. Nobody's in charge here, and the fact that the quartet works so well is a tribute to its members' respect for each other. If you dig Other Dimensions In Music, another collective free quartet which includes Campbell, you'll find a lot of similarities here.
Track Listing: Court Street; Fast; Gone Too Soon; One For Hannibal.
Personnel: Roy Campbell, Jr: trumpet; Mark Whitecage: alto saxophone; Joe Fonda: bass; Lou Grassi: drums.