Steve Swell's Slammin' The Infinite Quartet at Cafe Wilhelmina in Eindhoven
The second set opens with Swell floating the melodic line from "With the morning, hope" from the group's CD, accompanied by a koto like plucking below the bridge from Heyner and bowed cymbals from Kugel. The free flowing improvisations merge seamlessly with compositions cued up by Swell. At one point he stills the rhythm section for an unaccompanied duet with Mateen's clarinet: their two lines playing tag, intersecting, diverging, but retaining the same natural conversational cadence, with extemporised unisons turning on sweet long notes, before Swell releases a bass/drum tumult in support. A bass/drum interlude allow the horns to take a breather before Swell signals the eponymous "Slammin' the Infinite" theme - hitting the riff at breakneck speed. Mateen digs in on tenor, building out of the theme with squalling, honking, high register runs. Swell adds to the intensity with riff and Mateen continues, feet planted firmly apart, over fast walking bass and exploding drums. As Mateen's outpouring subsides, Swell picks up the baton for his most energetic solo of evening, tombone pointing skyward, with tenor cries in support.
The finale is provided by the elegiac "For Frank Lowe" theme, emerging from the improvisation, to be repeated in loose unison. The piece's structure has one horn playing the theme while the other explodes in liquid squawking runs, like the sort of outburst Frank Lowe graced us with in the 1970s, then continuing to alternate roles throughout. The piece builds incrementally, powerful and hymnlike, over a roiling rhythm section, with Swell trading emotive, anguished cries against Mateen's invocations until they come together in a loose unison over Kugel's hyperactivity and Heyner's drone. The others step back to allow a Kugel solo: he lays down a wall of sound with such intensity that he almost loses a stick, prompting a move onto cymbals and a slowing, gradually, into silence. An ecstatic conclusion to an enthralling non-stop 50 minute set.
If you like your music played with passion, conviction and consummate skill, go seek them out!
Visit Steve Swell on the web.
Cees van de Ven