New York Art Quartet: Old Stuff (2010)
Hindsight can be a wonderful thing. For instance, if this music is imbibed with a measure of it, it's possible to hear that the frontline of trombonist Roswell Rudd and saxophonist John Tchicai is one of the most distinctive in improvised music of recent decades. Rudd enjoyed, of course, a similar musical relationship with Steve Lacy, and while nothing can be taken away from that arrangement, his pairing with Tchicai sounds astonishingly fertile on this Old Stuff, from almost half a century ago.
The first rendition of the title piece is shot through with a tensile energy that keeps the music from coming on like some facsimile of Ornette Coleman's classic quartet with Don Cherry. Drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo was the ideal man for the group, and bassist Finn von Eyben is a revelation. It's clear he'd absorbed the work of players like Scott LaFaro and Gary Peacock, but he brings a fully formed musical personality to the feast.
Rudd's "Sweet V" has the feel of enervated swing about it, but the composer has always possessed the kind of musical personality which ensures such impressions are often superficial, at least until closer attention is paid. Here, the effort is rewarded abundantly via Rudd and Tchicai's contrapuntal savvy, and Moholo's ability to tailor his playing to meet the demands of the moment.
It's not just the group's reading of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" which emphasizes its affinity with his music. The quartet takes the piece at a tempo below stately and, in so, doing tease out its odd majesty. In his ability to skirt around tempo, lock onto the pulse and flow, Moholo reveals a less-than-obvious affinity for Sunny Murray's work, and the brevity of the piece simply elevates perception of the group's empathy.
The collectively singular approach to meter on Tchicai's "Kvintus T" is but one of a number of elements recalling what a distinctive composer he is. Combined with his alto sax work dry without being acidic, quicksilver but without the tendency to merely allude to notesTchicai's is one of the most individual voices of the last fifty years.
So, Old Stuff it might be, but the music still resonates with extraordinary vitality. We would be spoiled indeed if music was caught at such seminal moments as this more often, but the fact that it isn't adds further luster to something that's already very special.
Track Listing: Rosmosis; Sweet Smells; Old Stuff; Pannonica; Kvintus T; Pa Tirsdag; Old Stuff; Cool Eyes; Sweet V; Karin's Blues; Kirsten.
Personnel: Roswell Rudd: trombone; John Tchicai: alto sax; Finn von Eyben: bass; Louis Moholo: drums.
Record Label: Cuneiform Records