Wertman/ Kolhase/ Grassi: NorthCountry Pie (2003)
Economic circumstances often have a way of obscuring a musician’s true interests. David Wertman serves as a fine example of this phenomenon- a musician forced into commercial and studio gigs to pay the bills, but with an abiding affection for free jazz left unabated. Fortunately labels like CIMP exist that can open avenues for such expression and effectively disseminate the results. Wertman and Lou Grassi go way back, but Charlie Kohlhase is a relatively recent addition to each man’s circle of friends. The sympathetic interplay that saturates their music conceals the comparative brevity of their association as a group. Accompanying comments by those involved make repeated humorous mention of the blueberry variant of the disc’s title as a possible source of inspiration. More likely culprits are close listening and supportive cooperation.
Kohlhase has the major representatives of his reed arsenal at the ready, and the tonal variety they afford siphons directly into the compositions, which are a near even balance between saxophonist and bassist. Wertman’s “Sky” sets the stage by opening an improvisatory vista more constrictive than its signifier might imply. Building from a moody Latinized rhythm, the bassist and Grassi keep things moving at a brisk clip as Kohlhase’s alto shaves of showers of melodic sparks through a spate of emphatic blowing. The drummer’s cascading solo carries on past the point of prudence and ends up a bit overwrought, but Wertman’s ostinato strums eventually pull things back in. “Straight Talk” uses silence and aggressive bursts of Grassi’s militant press rolls to fine effect. The drummer shows little mercy on his skins, punishing them with violent barrages of striking sticks. Wertman whips up a buzzing harmonic center and Kohlhase skids across on tightly knotted tenor. The saxophonist’s “Pig Pie” continuous the intensity streak with another lurching theme dissolving into full tilt improvisatory melee. Using the piece’s middle section as a soapbox, Wertman puts his strings through the paces and his lines become a blur of rubbery strums.
Finally coming up for air on Wertman’s “Wise One,” the trio eases off the accelerator and settles into more spacious surroundings. Grassi trades sharpened sticks for felt-tipped mallets and the shift in dynamics proves a welcome one. Kohlhase plays sweetly, weaving with the bassist in a harmonic confluence shot through with sheer lyricism, but even at the slower tempo the band still sounds as if they would rather move fast and loose. The collectively extemporized “Morning Improv” plants the trio back on energy music footing and delivers an extended forum for Kohlhase’s meaty baritone antics. Blowing in bellowing gusts against an avalanche of rhythmic muscle, his instrument refuses to back down without an amicable fight. His brief exits precipitate surprising shifts as Grassi eases up and Wertman strums blinding barrages of elastically voiced chords or bows in tightly spiraling swathes. Overall these three men put their money where their mouths are, serving up a sizzling set of free jazz birthed beautifully from the tradition. The program could have benefited from greater restraint and variety in sections, but stands the test of sustained listening. Hopefully Wertman will view its success as further reason to pursue his less financially viable musical passions.
CIMP on the web: http://www.cadencebuilding.com
Track Listing: Sky/ Straight Talk/ Pig Pie/ Wise One/ Sweet Pie/ Morning Improv/ Grace/ R&D #2/ Mysteries of Bird Migration.
Personnel: David Wertman- bass; Charlie Kohlhase- alto, baritone & tenor saxophones; Lou Grassi- drums. Recorded: June 17 & 18, 2002, Rossie, NY.