Steve Swell trombone & compositions, with Sabir Mateen on saxes, clarinets & flute, John Blum on piano, Matthew Heyner on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. It is great thing to hear the underrated pianist John Blum in a group situation where he help navigate as well as solo in his own unique and powerful way. By the time I got to the end of this long (almost 77 minutes) CD, I was exhausted and elated and completely knocked out! (Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery)
Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite, a band with seven years of experience in New York's free jazz scene, lives up to its name in its fourth album release, 5000 Poems (Not Two, 2010). Fans of free jazz will delight in the band's energy, which seems inexhaustible, as well as the album's variety, with pieces ranging from heavy and Ornette Coleman-esque to lighthearted. Swell's opening solo on “Not Their Kind” gives the listener an apt introduction to his improvisational style. His trombone playing is intensely textural. Light years away from the scalar approaches of mainstream jazzers, and even quite removed from other well-known free players like Albert Mangelsdorff, whose use of multiphonics became so popular among trombonists. Swell spends the vast majority of his solos working "across the grain" of the trombone slide, using his athletic embouchure to flutter quickly, even spasmodically, between partials. This effervescent virtuosity can sound exhausting, but Swell rarely backs down. His tone has the characteristic buzz of a small-bore trombone, which compliments Sabir Mateen's saxophone playing. Like Swell, Mateen is adept at more vertically-oriented improvisation, able to deftly spring from the altissimo register to low, edgy growls. Slammin' the Infinite boasts a seasoned rhythm section. John Blum's piano playing is rhythmically insistent, often playing games of call-and-response with the soloist. Bassist Matthew Heyner shows creativity within prescribed limits. On “Where Are The Heartfelt?” he creates a rhythmically mesmerizing accompaniment from just three notes. Heyner's skills as a soloist are best displayed when the band has quieted down. The end of “Sketch #1” finds him working busily with both hands, bowing jagged ascents to high harmonics. Klaus Kugel takes advantage of his cohorts' rhythmic maturity, freeing himself from time-keeping duties even on groove-oriented tunes like “Where Are The Heartfelt?” Though 5000 Poems is dotted with such tunes as “Not Their Kind” and “The Darkness Afoot” that bring such free jazz pioneers as Ornette Coleman to mind, each nod to tradition corresponds to a bold departure from it. Thus “Sketch #1”, in its first theme of perpetual eighth-notes, simultaneously affirms and offers a lighthearted commentary on swing before diving into a more abstract, expressionistic duet between piano and flute. “Sketch #2” works similarly, and shows Swell's concept of the album as a whole. 5000 Poems shows a crafted progression, from Swell's opening solo to the horns' last exhausted sigh on the closing track. For those listeners that can revel in a high degree of intensity, this album bears listening to all the way through.
(review courtesy of Jacob Teichroew)
This is an album of stirring and well played free jazz from a crack ensemble which features Steve Swell on trombone, Sabir Mateen on saxophones, clarinets and flute, John Blum on piano, Matthew Heyner on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. The disc features several long improvisations, but the musicians always keep things interesting and things never fall into tedium. Mateen is the key to the success of the album, he shifts between a battery of instruments with a Sam Rivers like fluidity. "Not Their Kind" opens the album with strutting urgently played horns over strong piano comping. Mateen breaks through for a squeaking and leaping saxophone solo that is very exciting, powerful and free. Switching to flute for "Sketch 1" Mateen and Blum engage in a very interesting flute and piano dialogue. Light trombone and drums flesh out the performance further before a bowed bass solo takes things out rumbling and low. "Where are the Heartfelt?" has a medium tempo group statement that sets the stage for Mateen to move out over a pocket of piano, bass and drums. Trombone and tenor saxophone come together to improvise in a fast and exciting fashion, and then there is a feature for a dark tones piano trio interlude. "The Only Way Out" features Mateen on bass clarinet, he has a swooping and leaping sound and the instrument gets a dark and earthy tone. On this performance, the group improvises collectively at a fast pace, fast but not loud, and listening to each other carefully. "The Darkness Afoot" concludes the album with an open ended and abstract improvisation, the focuses on the patient and probing percussion of Kugel and Heyner's thick and resonant bass.
(review courtesy of jazzandblues.blogspot)
Steve Swell’s Slammin’ the Infinite brings the high energy on 5000 Poems, a hard-hitting collection of free jazz that bends perceptions and stretches the boundaries of music with fearless vigour. I’ll admit that 5000 Poems has spent considerable time spinning its way through my speakers over the last week. Its mind-bending construction is a little hard to get into, initially at least, but Swell’s dedication to the freedom of his art turns out to be quite contagious and the experience is a confrontational and confusing one that proves rewarding in the end. Swell, the leader and trombonist, grounds the rest of the players with surprising discipline and attention to detail. It might be hard to hear reed player Sabir Mateen or pianist John Blum go off on tangents and think “discipline,” but 5000 Poems is actually pretty precise. With drummer Klaus Kugel and bassist Matthew Heyner filling out the rest of Slammin’ the Infinite, the accuracy this band plays with is staggering. That precision is hardly surprising though, given the fact that Slammin’ the Infinite has been together in all its glorious chaos for the past seven years now. Swell explains that “a steady group gives you an element of the known, but with these guys, I’m not giving up the unknown.” Undeniably, it’s the unknown that sparkles, shines and shatters all over 5000 Poems. The name for the record is taken from a Walt Whitman essay and speaks to the notion of reaching that one truly great artistic idea through lots of hard work and hammering away at various concepts. “Farmers after all plant many seeds,” the liner notes explain.
“Not Their Kind” kicks things off with a hell of a sleek melody, providing plentiful foundation for Swell and Co. to tool out some funky improv passages. The track lets Swell belt away with a sharp, raw-boned solo that coolly pulls in some superbly elongated lines. Elsewhere, “My Myth of Perfection” shows the quieter side of Slammin’ the Infinite. The track builds edgily with slow, plodding precision for nearly four minutes before Swell mercifully interjects with a pressing and abstract bit of soloing. The band’s interplay is almost always roomy, giving plenty of opportunity for solos and lateral thinking. Mateen and Swell pull off some swinging duets with little regard for the unbending bonds of grumpy musical “appropriateness” on “The Only Way…Out,” showcasing their pluck as musicians and their energy as human beings. 5000 Poems won’t be for everyone, of course, as free jazz rarely is. The loose, intrepid, liberating playing of Swell’s Slammin’ the Infinite is riveting and lively stuff, though, and this record exemplifies the spirit of musical freedom as well as any other I’ve heard recently.
(review courtesy of Jordan Richardson)
There was a time when the addition of a chordal instrument such as piano to a horn-led free jazz quartet would have been viewed as a nod to the mainstream. But not the case now and especially not when the pianist in question is John Blum and the group is trombonist Steve Swell's Slammin' The Infinite. Underground legend Blum stays on board for their fourth outing after his guest appearance on Live At The Vision Festival (Not Two, 2008) and it pays dividends.
Although a studio date, the fulsome 76-minute playing time permits a stretching out as if in performance. Part of Slammin's appeal lies in the trademark simultaneous blowing by Sabir Mateen's mellifluous reeds, ever ready to spiral beyond the treble clef into stratospheric falsetto, and the leader's rough-hewn yet finely nuanced trombone, bolstered now by Blum's careening piano. Even when not soloing the pianist's controlled abandon demands attention. On bass, Matt Heyner breathes life into riffs, quickly deconstructed once ingrained on the listener's consciousness and plots more abstract musings with bow in hand while drummer Klaus Kugel drives the ensembles yet also explores texture, as in his shimmering feature on "The Darkness Afoot." In its round of solos, "Not Their Kind" introduces the band, with Mateen's opening foray, forged from concentrated tonal distortions, culminating in a dog-bothering whistle, a particular statement of intent. Notwithstanding Swell's punchy heads, "The Only Way...Out" could almost act as their manifesto: freeform ensembles spawning tension and release via energetic outpourings until a cathartic resolution. Further quicksilver interplay is everywhere: framed by the buoyant counterpoint of the two "Sketches" while "My Myth Of Perfection" contrasts dark mournful voicings with slow burning passion. The album title alludes to a Walt Whitman essay suggesting that great art comes through perseverance, but, in fact, Swell's success rate is consistently high and with 5000 Poems the trombonist smashes another home run.
(review courtesy of John Sharpe and AllAboutJazz)
1. Not Their Kind [08:32] 2. Sketch 1 [08:05] 3. Where Are The Heartfelt? [12:28] 4. My Myth Of Perfection [14:20] 5. The Only Way.Out [15:33] 6. Sketch 2 [04:01] 7. The Darkness Afoot [13:46]
Steve Swell - trombone, compositions Sabir Mateen - lto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, alto clarinet, flute John Blum - piano Matthew Heyner - bass Klaus Kugel - drums