T o n y   B i a n c o    - A L B U M   R E V I E W S


Featuring Paul Rogers on an ALL double-bass, Tony Bianco on drums and Paul Dunmall on saxes. 'Cosmic Craftsmen' features three long live pieces for solo drums, a duo with saxes & bass and an even longer trio track. I believe that the Paul (Rogers & Dunmall) were in an accident on the way to this gig from a review of that set I saw in The Wire. Either way, nothing really stops these titanic improvisers from erupting into a mighty force. The opening solo drums piece is an amazing beginning to our grand journey. Tony's rolling mallet-work is especially creative in weaving constant waves around the drums, building organically as the tide goes in and slowly goes out. This is a most impressive, expressive and melodic drum solo. The tenor sax and contrabass duo follows and shows how well this duo has long worked together as they magically match wits and cosmically craft their sounds together into a fascinating fabric. Dunmall's warm and occasionally explosive tone always works so well with Roger's massive bass sound and magnetic bag of sonic streams. The final trio track is especially astonishing, The trio swirl together in one magnificent force, sailing, burning and soaring higher and higher into the heavens. There is no turning back as we ride the waves or drown in the ocean of ideas. Cosmic craftsmen, indeed! - BLG


Featuring Elton Dean on alto sax and saxello. Jon Wilkinson on electric guitar and Tony Bianco on drums, piano, bass synth & construction. The late Elton Dean remains the quintessential Canterbury sax hero, playing his magical reeds on the seminal recordings of Soft Machine and the Keith Tippett Group, as well as his own great groups like Just Us, Ninesense and finally Soft Machine Legacy. His death earlier this year leaves a big hole in the beloved Canterbury Collective Scene. Thanks to labels like Cuneiform, Slam, Moonjune, HUX & FMR, for continuing to release diverse discs from Elton Dean and his many projects. This disc was put together by American-born, British-based drummer Tony Bianco, who has worked with Paul Dunmall and Dave Liebman in the past. Tony has been working on the Freebeat concept since living in Berlin and has created his own long bass loops as the center for this music, adding drums & keyboards, before Elton Dean and guitarist, Jon Wilkinson added their parts and solos. Beginning with “Sideways Dreams”, Tony’s cerebral, repeating bass synth and drums line has a great, hypnotic groove. As Jon plays dark, dreamy chords, Elton’s distinctive alto sax plays a sly, slow solo with a slight bit of echo added as tasty spice. On “Ghost”, Tony’s nervous, uptempo, oddly funky bass-line inspires Elton to stretch his notes out and take a long, story-like solo, as Jon’s also takes a long, evil guitar solo, bending barbed chords until they scream in the distance. Elton almost sounds like he is playing tenor on “Pelham Parkway”, his tone is even deeper than usual. Nice to hear that sly saxello sound on “Northern Lights”, which spins along quickly, pushing Elton to play spiralling layers of lines. Yeah! “El Che” has a dark undercurrent and more great, passionate soloing from Elton’s alto. Although ‘Northern Lights’ is much different than anything else we’ve heard from Elton Dean & Co., it is another off gem to savor. – BLG

DECISION DREAM - STEAM ROOM VARIATIONS - Jair Rohm Parker Wells / Magnus Alexanderson / Anthony Bianco

It tickles me to imagine that I’m hearing some futurist or alternate universe version of a Jimi Hendrix group when I listen to this manic outgrowth of the power trio. Well alright, maybe the freer moments of Hendrix at Woodstock meets a more reflective Fushitsusha. Anyway, it would have been easy for an electro-blowing session such as that on offer here to have deteriorated into shapeless noodling, but somehow, to group credit, I hear very little excess on this disc. In fact, repeated listening reveals Steamroom to be fairly frenetic but streamlined, transparent without loosing viscerality or power.

Recorded in one afternoon in London late this past summer, the platter’s basically one mammoth three-part suite with a brief coda for good measure. From the outset, guitarist Magnus Alexanderson, bassist Jair-Rohm Parker Wells and trapist Anthony Bianco serve up a mixture of drone, scree and clatter that manages order through constantly on-the-toes communication, all of which begins fairly softly with vaguely “jazz” inflections in drum timbre. Within the first five minutes though, the line between jazz and noise is straddled, which happens more and more frequently as the disc unfolds in slow jagged arcs. At one point, things die down to near silence, an astonishing and well-executed effect, but it is short-lived.

I don’t mean to give the impression that order is lacking here—it most certainly is not, but it usually comes in bizarrely interconnected loops, each one coming off like a microcosmic manifestation of the disc as a whole—organized asymmetry—and so the loops tangle and unwind themselves in perfect counterpoint to everything else roiling and bubbling in tandem. The drums are beautifully recorded, producing some fun spatial allusions if auditioned in “the sweet spot” and it’s often hard to tell bass from guitar, so effect-laden and inter-registral is almost every utterance. Do I even hear occasional delay on the drums—they’re remarkably dry otherwise.

Maybe, and despite my inability to articulate in kind, the best thing about the disc is just how clearly presented everything is. No matter how many levels of feedback, distortion and whatever else is piled atop the remnants of what I’ll jump right on out and call instrumental purity, the trio identity is refreshingly ever-present. This is commendable, and I look forward to hearing wherever these folks take music that I have no qualms whatsoever about labeling fusion.
MARC MEDWIN ( bagatellen.com )


Drummer Anthony Bianco, bassist Jair-Rohm Parker Wells and guitarist Magnus Alexanderson burn out electric boundaries with their new release Steamroom Variation.
The fist part of this album is essentially a myriad of effects and improvisation. Screaming sounds come from Alexanderson’s guitar and the loop effects seems to fly from another dimension.
Bianco, Parker Wells and Alexanderson are unpredictable while playing acoustically and mysterious when mixing up multi-effects. These sounds can be associated to rock and even heavy metal in the long section of part 3.
Drummer Bianco keeps his sticks on the right cymbals. The sound is soft at times and very clear. Innovative are the double bass and the Fichter electric efforts of Jair-Rohm Parker Wells. Part 2 culminates with nearly perfect electronic voices performed by Alexanderson. Melodies fade softly, blending loop effects and a widely off beat drums.
This trio is obviously at home in innovating electronic effects progressing to an ad hoc situation. The stamp of their improvisation and musical research is certainly reached with Steamroom Variation. This release will be a delight for those who are into electronic music with innovative input.
DR. ANA ISABEL ORDONEZ ( jazzreview.com )

VESUVIUS - Alex Von Schlippenbach / Paul Dunmall / Paul Rogers /Tony Bianco

This is effectively Mujician with Tony Levin giving way to Tony Bianco on drums and Keith Tippett replaced by Alex von Schlippenbach on piano. But Schlippenbach has always let it be known that free jazz – and sometimes changes-and-rhythm jazz – are still very much what he does. The linear energy he brings to this is very different from Tippett’s more shamanic approach. The music remains more on a single level, without the transcendant leaps you’d expect from Mujician.

Vesuvius works wonderfully – two large slabs of urgent, probing sound with no fat and little room for meditative pause. The pianist probes and prods at ideas that float up from some common pool of musical language, and then dismantles them. Paul Dunmall, playing only tenor saxophone this time, resorts to shorter and more angular phrases than usual, with phrasing that contends with the piano line. In a rather uncomfortable position in the stereo picture, Paul Rogers coaxes some highly effective sounds from his seven-string ALL bass, making full use of its cello range end, but never setting aside his familiar role, like a drifting anchor. Tony Bianco’s playing sits much further away from jazz again, even if some of his fast, urgently hissing figures constantly hint at a fast jazz 6/8 without ever resolving into it. He is what makes this such a different sounding date, and such a good one.

The shorter “Salamander” does sound proven in fire, its surface bubbling and shifting like something molten cast into as yet uncertain form. The longer “Leviathan” manages not to lumber, but there are a couple of places where the direction seems in doubt and the four participants lose touch with each other. Even so, this is a remarkable, unexpected record with a real edge.

IN A WESTERN SENSE - Tony Bianco (33jazz)

An interesting double-CD featuring the quartet of London-resident American drummer Tony Bianco, with saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real, pianist Zoe Rahman and bassist Oli Hayhurst. The repertoire is 11 compositions by Bianco, who operates somewhere between a Lennie Tristano-like Cool School bebop style, folk dance derivations and raw Coltranesque free-jazz.
The zigzags and detours of Bianco's compositions can sound similar after a while, and the soloists sometimes seem inhibited by the circuitousness of the melodies. But if a single CD of the best pieces might have been a wiser choice, Bianco is nonetheless a promising prospect. Lopez-Real has a nice line in Lee Konitz smokiness but also its opposite, a raw and explosive multiphonics that suggests the Argentinian Gato Barbieri.
The second disc's serpentine Cool School bopper So You Say is a stand-out, and Rahman unfurls some sustained invention on the brittle Chance, stabbing chords against Bianco's terse drum patterns, building to an intense solo, then conversing obliquely with Lopez-Real's softly advancing sax. The fiercest music comes on the free-jazzy The Bells Told, the music shaking free of its sometimes mathematical musing. But a growing force, worth keeping an ear open to.

HOUR GLASS - Tony Bianco / Paul Dunmall / Marcio Mattos / Paul Rogers (emanem 4208)

Excerpts from reviews:

These recordings will inevitably raise the question - is an hour too long? If the aim was to 'run into certain musical episodes that are amazing', then I think they have succeeded. There are certainly passages here that contain music that I have never heard from these participants, or perhaps from anyone else. So stay the course and you will be well rewarded. (As an aid, the two performances have been marked up as four tracks each.)
These pieces were not recorded with a double album in mind - they are just two sessions that Tony Bianco organised. However, with hindsight, they seem to work well together, as they are both similar and different.
Both performances are fuelled by the high octane drumming of Bianco, who is now living in London after previous lives in New York and Berlin. Both feature the fluent yet profound saxophone of Paul Dunmall (uniquely among these musicians living in his country of birth), although his use of tenor on the first and soprano on the second results in very different colours.
The two bass players work in a similar way, yet sound completely different. Marcio Mattos (long resident in London but originally from Rio de Janeiro) uses a conventional four-string double bass augmented by electronics that are used sparsely but tellingly. On the other hand, Paul Rogers (resident in Nimes - previously in London) can be heard on his new A.L.L. bass, made by Antoine Leducq, with six strings plus 12 sympathetic strings.

"Two stunning hour-long continuous performances driven by drummer Tony Bianco's supercharged and yet crisp metrical variations. Saxophonist Paul Dunmall matches his partner's improbable stamina and inventive phrasing. At once assertive and rigorously probing, Dunmall has evolved an unmistakably authoritative voice. On the first session, where he plays tenor, their headlong roll is rounded out with the sonorous spring of Marcio Mattos' bass. On the second, with Dunmall on soprano, it's Paul Rogers, wielding a new six-string bass fitted with sympathetic strings, who thickens and enriches the unceasing stream. Mattos is luxuriant, Rogers urgent and eloquent. Both respect the clarity and concentration of Bainco and Dunmall's forceful trajectory."

"There are few clues in the two hour-long performances on this exhilarating album to tip off the blindfolded listener that HOUR GLASS was not recorded in New York during the '70s. This two-CD set exemplifies the spirit and stamina prevalent in such units as Sam Rivers' trios. Labelling drummer Tony Bianco and saxophonist Paul Dunmall's respective work-outs with bassists Marcio Mattos and Paul Rogers as loft jazz may be misleading, but arguable not more so than tagging it as improvised music, particularly as the latter designation, at least in Britain, increasingly signifies sensibilities considerably removed from the free jazz-informed exultancy that is the co-leaders' stock in trade.
Another against-the-grain aspect of these two improvisations is their duration. At a time when shorter pieces are becoming more prevalent in improvised music, Bianco and Dunmall opt for hour-long workouts. Their premise, summarised by Bianco in his sleeve note, adheres to traditional free jazz tenets in this regard; that by rigorously attending to the spirit of the music at such lengths, passages of exceptional creativity will likely emerge. Such passages are in ample supply on both the title piece, featuring Dunmall on tenor and Marcio Mattos on bass, and The Teepees Dive Deeply on which Dunmall plays soprano and Paul Rogers the amazing A.L.L. bass.
Though both pieces sustain high energy levels, they have contrasting rhythmic feels. A cursory listening would suggest that Dunmall's choice of horns are determinative, that the roar of his post-Coltrane tenor galvanises the title piece's power, and his soaring soprano triggers a sleeker propulsion. Yet closer scrutiny reveals Dunmall's counterparts to have equal influence in the shaping of the two pieces. Mattos provides plenty of torque with what used to be called a big sound, which he thickens with electronics at key points in the title piece. The extended range of the A.L.L. bass prompts Rogers to sprint through the registers with impressive agility, adding to the rhythmic lift of The Teepees Dive Deeply. Though Bianco provides a strong, flexible backbone for both pieces, there are subtle differences in his deployment of pungent cross-rhythms and pyrotechnic flourishes that are crucial to the way each pieces unfolds.
The music on HOUR GLASS is well integrated an cogent, whether you label it free jazz, improvised music, or something else."

"What is it with drummer Tony Bianco's playing that forces Paul Dunmall to put all the talent and energy he can spare in the music? This pair ranks among the most exciting units of high-energy improv in the early 2000s (matched maybe only by Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano). HOUR GLASS adds two hours to their recorded output. Tony Bianco allies grace and power, propelling both sessions with unflinching stamina. On tenor, the saxophonist sticks closer to the free jazz idiom, while the soprano takes him deeper into circular breathing and abstract thinking. The two bass players have similar attitudes but their instruments bring out different colours. The second piece has a slightly awkward ending -- the conscious effort to stop after an hour is more obvious (as in forced) than in the first piece. But that remains a minor flaw for a brilliant album. This music is not for reductionism purists and listeners with a short attention span. On the other hand fans of Mujician will greatly appreciate."

"The trio with Mattos is marked by the bassist's ceative manipulation of electronics, creating the kind of expansive drones and sonic environments that Dunmall likes to work within. He plays tenor throughout the continuous one hour piece, a feat of physical control that equals some of Evan Parker's titanic performances. The other set finds him working with Paul Rogers. It's a more familiar partnership but no less stimulating and rewarding and the even longer The Teepees Dive Deeply is a wrenching, joyous experience."
RICHARD COOK and/or BRIAN MORTON - 'The Penguin Guide of Jazz on CD' 2004

"The propulsive drumming of Bianco and the continuously ripping sax of Dunmall (particularly awesome on the soprano in the second CD of this double set 62 minutes named The Teepees Dive Deeply) are the main colours in this release. More than in other Emanem recordings, this has a contemporary 'jazzy' feel and - with ideas flowing one after another, often without stopping for VERY long spurts - it nevertheless results as a pretty relaxing meeting among complex musical personalities. What's really different here is the use of bass: in the hands of Mattos, who plays on the first set Hour Glass, you get classic deep, solid notes; the instrument is meant as a strong expressive communicator and meshes perfectly in a global conversation. On the other hand, with the pluri-stringed A.L.L. bass played by Rogers, one can almost smell wood, being its character a little more 'light-hearted' than the regular acoustic bass (but what a sound... likely to be appreciated by guitarists more than bassists). Tony Bianco's light but steady pulse and the never ending lung pumping by Paul Dunmall are absolutely astonishing; the same old 'thumbs up' is required, but that's no news to the label's aficionados."

"Dunmall matches the inexhaustible percussive attack of Bianco. Each disc is an hour-long free improvisation workout. This post-Coltrane approach could even be considered post-Rashied Ali. Dunmall doesn't so much stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Peter Brötzmann blowing powerful blast of sound. He works in a shrewd energy pattern modulating much like the energy drummer Bianco. Bianco's approach might start with Ali, but he travels the same roads as Milford Graves and Frank Kiermeyer. Raucous playing is not his bag, he creates wave upon wave of energy working the cymbals in a continuos pattern. Bassists Mattos and Rogers hold their own, Mattos supplying light touches of electronics and Rogers meeting the energy waves head on. A brilliant addition to this uncompromising label."

"This is musicmaking on the heroic scale, the hour-long duration of each piece the aural equivalent of some giant Abstract Expressionist canvas. Although such marathon high-octane performances now have a long tradition behind them (and the example of Coltrane's late music weighs heavily on the music), they still present unusual challenges for both musicians and listeners, especially when (as here) the musicians go without the safety net of precomposed material. Perhaps a little unusually, both sessions on the set were recorded in the studio; one more often encounters such large-scale improvisation in the concert situation, where the spur of an audience helps keep inspiration and energy levels from flagging.
The discs are differentiated both by featuring different bassists and by Dunmall's choice of instrument. Disc 1, Hour Glass, finds Dunmall on tenor and Mattos on bass. The first ten minutes or so are comparatively temperate, but after that it's more or less full-throttle all the way, with only a few widely-spaced pauses that serve to bring the energy level down to a point from which it may be rebuilt. Mattos is a gargantuan presence, hacking and slashing away and very much at the centre of the music. With tenor and bass in such close quarters there's a strong sense of interaction, the players dodging around or banging up against each other. Bianco's drumming isn't terribly varied in approach or colour-basically, a continuous barrage that's turned up or down a notch as occasion demands-and his two solo features aren't especially different from each other or for that matter from what he does under the other players. The disc reaches a frenzied peak with the return of the saxophonist and bassist after Bianco's first solo (CD track 2); for this listener, diminishing returns set in after a while, but the performance holds together nonetheless without too many dry spells. Dunmall signals the approach of the end of the hour by scaling down his torrents-of-notes approach, rounding off the performance by working over a recognisable motif in more measured fashion.
Whereas Hour Glass took several minutes to fully heat up, The Tepees Dive Deeply virtually dispenses with preliminaries, with only a few seconds of musical handshakes before Dunmall is tossing off fluent streams of notes over pell-mell drums and the bass's rapidfire scribblings. Right off the bat there's 20 minutes or so of almost flat-out blowing, with only a halftime rest for a bass solo. Dunmall's a blunter player than, say, Coltrane or Evan Parker, and he tends to hit notes right on the head, producing rapid but entirely even and unbroken melodic streams. Despite the fiery nature of the music, he is generally quite lyrical and coherent, not at all prone to squalling or screaming: depending on your taste this is either all to the good, or perhaps (given the idiom he's working in) something of an expressive limitation. I'm rather happier when Dunmall at last staunches his flow a bit in the piece's more moderately paced central section, a 17-minute interlude which finds the trio engaging in more explicit dialogue and patiently exploring instrumental colour. Here Dunmall comes up with an extraordinary array of gobbles, clucks, broken trills, mewls, ghostly split tones and even a darn good imitation of a bagpipe chanter; Rogers bows away with vigour, producing hysterical flutters, ponderous drones and metallic slashes. After this interlude winds up it's back to the attack for the last 20 minutes of the piece, though there is now a more pointed sense of interplay between Rogers and Dunmall. The saxophonist winds the whole thing up with the same gesture as on Hour Glass, slowing down to work motivic variations in a fashion very much indebted to Coltrane.
On this date Bianco is rather more in the backseat-no drum solos on this one, I note. Rogers, too, isn't as central to the music as Mattos was to Hour Glass. This is in part because of the different sounds of the players: Mattos, using a conventional bass, is louder and more resonant than Rogers, who's playing a custom-made A.L.L. bass, which has six strings plus extra sympathetic strings (which give it an unusually metallic sound). But also there's the matter of Dunmall's use of soprano on the later session, so that the pitch gap between saxophone and bass reinforces Rogers' inclination to go his own way.
So, two hours of blowing, with only a break for a CD change: what's the final verdict? There's no getting around the fact that this is a tough listen, and on the whole I'd prefer music that permits both musicians and listeners the chance for a fresh start. But devotees of hard, muscular blowing will find much to savour across the span of these two discs."

LINE ISH - Tony Bianco / Dave Liebman / Tony Marino (emanem 4104)

Excerpts from reviews:

"LINE ISH sees Tony Bianco back in the USA for a powerful recording session with Dave Liebman and his trusty bassist of over 15 years, Tony Marino. A suite of alternating written-down themes, solos and improvised group variations, LINE ISH draws on the heart and soul of the free jazz idiom: the energy, the emotion, the willingness to explore, and the swing. Liebman is credited for most of the writing - limited to a few heads and the simple macrostructure of the piece. Besides his tenor and soprano saxes, he also plays wooden flute in the Group Interlude and he sits down at the piano for the whole duration of Line Ish: Part Two. The melodic material frames the improvisations and gives the piece and movement of ebb and flow. Each musician gets his share of the spotlight and the whole proceedings are extremely amicable, maybe even too polite. But Bianco nails down his typical octopusian playing, Liebman throws in some of his most vehement tenor lines of later years, and Marino's Bass Interlude seems to arch back to Henry Grimes' heyday with Albert Ayler. A good, honest session."

"Liebman echoes his Lookout Farm days on LINE ISH, joining drummer Tony Bianco and Tony Marino on a dazzling free jazz suite. In addition to playing soprano, tenor, and wooden flute, he is also heard at the piano. The disc is a suite with various interludes set within. The opening cut, Line Ish, Part One, opens with a moody duet between Liebman and Marino. Blowing with the kind of passion Coltrane used to summon, while Bianco thrashes beneath the moodiness and Marino adds dark arco backdrop, Liebman blows fiercely on the straight free jazz burnout. Marino's arco solo is brooding and dramatic; he spirals up to the higher notes, then falls like Icarus into the waiting arms of Liebman's high-pitched wail marking the transition into the next movement. The interlocking movements and interludes are solo and group efforts. Marino's Middle Eastern theme-spiced interlude is a fierce plucked effort, rich in melody and dexterity. His solo segues directly into the next collective movement announced by Bianco's cymbal flourishes (his drumming is a guiding hand, firm but never ostentatious); Liebman, heard at the piano, mines the instrument's depths by strumming the strings from the inside as the space eventually narrows while the tempo increases and the interplay races toward chaos. Liebman's solo interlude features him hitting astonishingly bird-like high pitches, screaming yet whispering. Part Three is a furious cauldron of soprano, plucked bass and drums (Bianco laying down Elvin Jones-like polyrhythms). The following Group Interlude features Liebman on flute with a fierce drum solo by Bianco leading into the final movement of the suite. Liebman falls in on tenor, followed by Marino on plucked bass, and then all come together for the final whirlwind. LINE ISH is a tour de force, expertly conceived and brilliantly performed, an outstanding display of the spirit and empathy that exists between the players."

"Saxophonist Dave Liebman puts on his free jazz hat for this powerful trio release. Drummer Tony Bianco is a relentless whirlwind while Tony Marino provides the axis for an intense session that intimates notions of how free form art is capable of making perfect sense."

"Saxophonist Dave Liebman's reputation has often rested on his deliberation for carrying the torch laid down by John Coltrane. Expressionistic, with an informed world view, he is as comfortable in a melodic and relaxed setting, as he is in a more free context, beautifully documented on this collaboration with drummer Tony Bianco and long-time bassist Tony Marino. LINE ISH finds the trio exploring freedom that has few reference points, but nevertheless comes across as focused and not the least bit self-indulgent.
That there is a chemistry amongst the players is clear. That each player is confident enough to, in turn, support and take the lead is also evident. And that everyone has a clear sense of history, of precedence, to give the recording a lineage even while it asserts a personality of its own is also apparent.
The album consists of four pieces that, while largely freely-improvised, are based around ideas, sketches by Liebman. In between these four extended tracks are solos by each player, and a group improvisation, Group Interlude, that finds Liebman on wooden flute, Marino and Bianco on chimes and bells, with shades of Don Cherry.
The group pieces display a variety of textures, rhythmic values and ambiences. Line Ish: Part One finds the group exploring and expanding on the territory set forth by Coltrane in his later years. Liebman is his usual outgoing self, creating sheets of sound that ebb and flow with the rest of the rhythm section. Line Ish: Part Two has Liebman playing piano, an instrument on which he is rarely heard. On this piece, Liebman demonstrates a rich sense of abstraction that ranges from spacious to intense, with hints of Cecil Taylor's more aggressive stance. Line Ish: Part Three and Line Ish: Part Four are equally varied, with the composer providing bare sketches, simple roadmaps to establish the general direction, then letting things loose to see where they might go.
The session is notable for the emergence of Marino as a strong free player. More closely associated with Latin jazz on his own projects and the far more structured context of Dave Liebman's group, to hear him use extended techniques on Bass Interlude is both surprising and a real joy. It's always a treat to discover an artist, who has traditionally been pigeon-holed by context, to be far more stylistically diverse, and Marino shows a remarkable ability to connect with Bianco and Liebman in this more liberated musical environment.
LINE ISH marks a return to the United States by Bianco. Based on the results of this fine session of free exchange and uninhibited expression, he should go back there more often."

"Dark overtones pervade the music on LINE ISH. The session is a forum for Liebman to soar on high with extended improvisations while Bianco and Marino construct a tense polyrhythmic web around him. The music breathes openly as it progresses in wave after wave of spontaneous discovery. On the initial segment, Bianco builds a quiet fire of intensity that Liebman fans into full blaze with his vibrant tenor escapades. The second part penetrates deeply; it begins with soulful bass lines and flows into a terse piano solo by Liebman where he ponders weighty matter characterized by jagged pensiveness.
The interludes break the action and then transition into the next movement. The first interlude features Marino developing a moody bass solo; his rapid-fire fingering of the strings conjures images of foreboding spirits aching to escape the confines of the instrument. He executes with the fullness and complexity of a guitar player as he makes the strings sing vibrantly in mournful celebration. Liebman's soprano solo on Sax Interlude is a gritty affair. He picks apart a phrase and expands the concepts by seeking the uppermost limits of the instrument. The band beckons forth ancient beings on a trio interlude fortified by Liebman's wooden flute callings. Bianco's interlude solo concentrates exclusively on cymbals and ushers in his more expanded drumming on the final part where Liebman returns to the tenor saxophone. This trio gels cohesively. Liebman's playing is as strong and fiery as ever, and Bianco and Marino contribute exquisite sonic jewels to this consolidated effort of ultra-satisfying quality."

"I've never really followed the music of Liebman, hearing him a bit in the 70's and every now and then since. But here is an excellent, well thought out suite of free improvised music giving ample space to all three artists and some 'out' sounds from Liebman."

"The music is most definitely jazz-oriented, but Liebman's loosely sketched lines allow for plenty of extemporaneous blowing. Bianco's no stranger to working with Coltrane-influenced saxophonists having teamed with Paul Dunmall and Simon Picard on an earlier Emanem, UTOMA TRIO. He's also at the heart of HOUR GLASS, another session with Dunmall and the switch-hitting basses of Marcio Mattos and Paul Rogers. The music here is in line with those previous projects though Liebman etches a more obvious spiritualized aura into the contours of his horns. There's also room for his piano and even a bit of contemplative wooden flute to make appearances. The overarching metaphysical mood carries over into the colored pencil cover art depicting a gaunt Brahmin deep in meditative thought.
Line Ish dominates the disc's running time and is broken into four parts. The sections are further separated by comparatively terse solo detours for each musician along with a Group Interlude that veers off from the focus of the main piece and into a fuzzy forest of chimes, bells and arco bass and the aforementioned flute. More striking and memorable is the shrill steam whistle soprano piece that marks the median point of the set.
Liebman sounds energized by the dynamic presence of Bianco and his playing at the onset echoes the blazing note-packed approach of his best 70s work. Bianco responds in kind pounding away at his kit and crafting huge shoals of rhythm in tandem with Marino furious pizzicato. The bassist's clarity is compromised slightly by some shadow-inducing amplification, especially during the more agitated arco passages, but considering the thunderous nature of much of the interplay the augmentation proves a necessary evil. On his solo Interlude Marino actually makes the added ballast work to his advantage, coaxing corpulent slabs of sound from his strings that push at the edges of the studio space.
Later sections revert to more ruminative interaction as during Liebman's oblique piano foray on Part Two. Here he moves from a piecemeal investigation of the interior strings into a filibuster of splashing right hand clusters. Bianco's rolling beats accompany and eventually assume control in a snowballing solo that takes the track out. Martial press rolls and tumbling tom tattoos are a regular part of the drummer's trick bag and these propulsive tactics balance out the various detours into more introspective inclinations. This is classic cut-from-the-mold free jazz, born from the common currency of saxophone, piano, bass and drums. From the opening strains to the somewhat depleted-sounding sign off these three fellows abandon any sense of artifice as to it being anything else."

"Tony Bianco's mercurial drumming is the propeller of this great trio, where each voice brings common sense and solidity in every single moment. Dave Liebman applies his phrasing like a whirlwind, quivering, self-consciously groundbreaking, exploring theme fragments and pulling out harmonics like a drink of fresh water. The jawboning sound of Marino brings back fluids to parched ears, emerging like a paramount element even in a cohesive setting like this. Bianco's wrists are probably made of highly elastic rubber: his sticks' command is a good explanation for a scorching yet natural playing, more evident than ever during his solo parts. The feeling here is that this is a nugget, a record that's destined to stay, without flashes but with feet planted in the concrete."

"I haven't heard Liebman for a while but it was a real treat to find his searching tenor pitted against Marino's arco bass on the first part of Line Ish. The ecstatic writhing of the horn offset the strings' slow burn, something which continued in a slightly different vein when Marino's grave playing took a front seat with Bianco's percussion working deftly around him. There is a strong sense of three players pulling in the same direction but using different approaches to get there.
Given his own Bass Interlude Marino resorts to pizzicato and strumming rather than the bow and creates a dark swell of sound out of which the second part of Line Ish emerges, this time with Liebman on piano. The dynamics are different here with small washes of cymbal riding against the keyboard's sombre chords. Liebman's piano method may appear slightly more restrained at first but it builds in intensity, showering fragments across the bass and drum interplay. The ferocity turns the instrument into a percussive rather than melodic tool, which may not be anything innovative but it broadens the trio's range of improvisational resources.
Alone on Sax Interlude Liebman alternately takes the soprano into the highest of its registers then drops into its more conventional range, creating a brief dialogue with himself before leading into Line Ish : Part Three, another fiercely energised collaboration that still finds space for bass and drums to engage each other in duet. Liebman's voice, when it returns, shifts between the shrill and intensely melodic stances which opened the piece.
By way of a further dynamic change Group Interlude features various chimes, bells and cymbals alongside wooden flute and more arco bass. I was briefly reminded of a mini Art Ensemble as Liebman's flute skittered off into the ether and the bass held more solid ground. Again, what is most noticeable is the level of intuitive playing that is happening giving the piece shape within its freedom of expression.
I hope, as it has done with me, this will prompt people to seek out Liebman's work again but by itself this is also a chance to hear some exciting and purposeful trio playing."

"Dave Liebman has maintained a rigorous release schedule since the turn of the century, appearing on a handful of releases each year in settings ranging in size from solo to big band. But to hear the saxophonist in the form he realizes on this recording, a trio date with his regular quartet bassist Tony Marino and American expatriate drummer Tony Bianco, you'd be excused for thinking it was a recently discovered session from his Coltrane disciple days with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis' bands. Yes, you'd be hard-pressed to find playing this far outside in Liebman's recent discography (the solo COLORS set on hatOLOGY notwithstanding), which makes LINE ISH even more of a curiosity.
Liebman sounds inspired on tenor and soprano sax throughout-even if he comes off as slightly out of practice at this style of playing-although 13 minutes of him plinking away at and around the same few chords on piano during Line Ish: Part Two is a tad overindulgent. The same goes for Marino, who displays a surprising affinity for Jimmy Garrison-influenced arco drones; it's a rare treat to hear him follow Liebman so far outside the lines.
But drummer Bianco is the true heart of this session, regardless of his acknowledgement of Liebman as the conceptual leader in his liner notes. Though his playing is unashamedly energetic (which is why he matches up so well with saxophonist Paul Dunmall, with whom he regularly collaborates), he makes more sensitive use of his cymbals than most like-minded percussionists-often resulting in a refusal to push the music from behind that keeps him on equal footing with the rest of the band. Anyone interested in hearing him at his most effective should skip directly to Cymbal Interlude and the extended solo introduction to Line Ish: Part Four, where his sense of flow, dexterity, and control are indeed revelatory."

UTOMA TRIO - Tony Bianco / Paul Dunmall / Simon Picard (emanem 4040)

Excerpts from reviews:

"UTOMA TRIO numbers among the essential tenor trio projects of this period."

"The trio is superb, with two tenor saxophones pitched against the drum kit. It falls into a continuum of Dunmall records that represents one of the most stimulating saxophone documents of recent times."
RICHARD COOK and/or BRIAN MORTON - 'The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD' 2004

"Drummer Tony Bianco's resume reads like a laundry list of disparate musical talent. Here's a man who has performed with rock and rollers Chuck Berry and Edgar Winter, modern jazz bassist Reggie Workman, saxophonist Dave Liebman and many others. However with this release, the drummer along with tenor saxophone titans Paul Dunmall and Simon Picard derive inspiration from John Coltrane's free-style explorations
Tony Bianco's UTOMA TRIO is all about raw firepower and unrelenting energetic spirit! The first piece, Oceans In Space presents the listener with twenty-five minutes of viscous soloing and scintillating improvisational speak, thanks to the stylistic inventions of the saxophonists who exhibit intuitive call and response dialogue at an often-torrid pace while the leader provides a mini-clinic on the art of free-jazz drumming. Throughout, Bianco renders a rock solid and changeable pulse yet multitasks his rhythmic inclinations while pushing and prodding the dynamic twin sax attack into uncharted regions of sound; although the band alters the momentum with poignant lyricism and effective use of space on Labyrinths. The tumultuous choruses continue on the final piece, White Eagle as the musicians exhibit unimaginable stamina in concert with climactic developments, cunning interaction and the soloist's faint injections of melody and meticulously constructed fabrics of sound. Hence, a mind-blowing modern jazz/improvisational extravaganza it is! Strongly recommended."

"I hadn't heard such powerful and engaging blowing in a while. Three jazz musicians going at it together, pushing each other off-balance, playing with each other for an hour, putting their guts in their instruments, playing with as much energy as possible. Sometimes, that¹s simply what free jazz is all about. And these three deliver a magical moment. Centre stage is the under-documented drummer Tony Bianco, a busy player unconcerned with extended techniques. He hits often, everywhere, but always remains within the jazz idiom. Left stage is tenor saxophonist Paul Dunmall, a fiery musician who can deliver great energy when at his best. Stage right is Dunmall's friend Simon Picard, another tenor. Both share the same language partly inherited from Coltrane. UTOMA TRIO is another take at the sax/drums face-off exemplified by Coltrane and Rashied Ali (Interstellar Space). A 10-minute track is squeezed between two half-hour improvs - a good idea as it lets the listener rest a little. Bianco is unstoppable, while tenors trade solos or engage in battle. It could have been tiresome but it¹s not: the level of intensity translates into excitement and the listener comes out of UTOMA TRIO flushed but happy."

"In the post-INTERSTELLAR SPACE cosmos of improvised music any sort of drums-saxophone pairing is bound to draw comparisons to the seminal date by John Coltrane and Rashied Ali, and the timeline for the music could forever hence be cleanly be divided into pre- and post- periods. The UTOMA TRIO, while expanding slightly on the instrumental template pioneered by Trane and Ali through the addition of a second tenor, makes no excuses for this conspicuous source of inspiration and instead embraces and builds upon it.
Favouring the long-form in their trio improvisations, the three men make maximum use of the space and dimensions afforded by their set up. The recording adds further to the sense of space by filtering their horns into distinct channels for easy comparison and contrast and depositing Tony Bianco concisely at the center of the configuration. Unleashing what quickly seems like a bottomless geyser of cymbal, snare and tom patterns, Bianco's improvisations are largely vertical - standing in contrast to the saxophonists' dual inventions, which branch out in radiating knots and streams. The pieces work much like the sonic equivalent of a hurricane's anatomy with Oceans In Space and White Eagle awash in relentlessly swirling activity and funnelling intensity, and the nuclear Labyrinths serving as the comparatively calm eye of the storm. The differences between the saxophonists in terms of technique, tone and expression, while readily evident in the stereo separation of the recording and in the sections where one or the other lays out to leave his comrade to go it alone, eventually become subsumed in the forward momentum of their shared release. Bianco seems similarly bent toward such conquests and maintains a stamina and sustain behind his kit that in turn fuels his partners' unremitting exclamations. The effect is ultimately somewhat exhausting, especially over the durations these men are dealing with, but at the same time wholly appealing and absorbing.
Strangely, for all the strength and energy expended, both players largely eschew extended techniques choosing instead to trace vermilion lines out of a molten melodic core. Cleanly articulated phrases take the place of split tone shrieks and multiphonic screams and each man makes the most of the tonal properties endemic to his respective tenor appendage. The result is a generous repast of freely improvised victuals that caters effectively to all types of listeners, even those saddled with more pernickety palates."

"The drums plus two tenors format allows plenty of space for solo improvisation. Bianco's role is pivotal, holding proceedings together. For historical reasons, it is often tempting to see such tenor meetings as heavyweight contests, with the need for a 'winner' and a 'loser'. I shall resist the temptation, and declare the listener as the winner on passages where both tenors play together."

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