John Martin: tenor saxophone; Rob Updegraff: guitar; Ralph Wyld: vibraphone; Tim Giles: drums; Tim Fairhall: double bass.
This is another superb release from the F-IRE label, and certainly deserves to raise the profile of saxophonist John Martin. Over the past 10 years, Martin has been experimenting with ways of producing several notes simultaneously. Starting from a ‘big rich chord with 3 distinct notes’ he has gone on to develop ways of working multiphonics and overtones into his playing. For players who eschew chord progression, tune or tempo, such an approach is de rigueur. For other players, the ‘free’ part of their playing occurs in the solos before they return to more conventional playing in the head and chorus. What Martin does, however, is to work this playing into carefully orchestrated tonal pieces. Here the risk of a misplaced or badly produced sound would be to destabilise and ruin the piece. Martin keeps within the confines of chords and tempo so well that it is easy to miss the complexity and challenges of his playing. There are three short ‘preludes’ in this double CD where the tenor saxophone is really put through its paces and Martin coaxes a wide range of sounds that feed into the following track. Each prelude has the sympathetic rhythm section working in the background to provide colour to the developing patterns that Martin produces. Elsewhere, he switches from a very accomplished post-bop style in which he plays the themes of the pieces, into the overtones and multiphonics either by way of introduction to the piece or as part of a solo.
The pieces themselves are all very well structured and satisfying to listen to. The solo duties are shared with the excellent vibe player Ralph Wyld, who brings crispness to the solos that he plays and clarity in his support playing behind Martin. Another important asset is the playing of guitarist, Rob Updegraff. At times, Updegraff’s solos threaten to steal the show, but Martin always pulls the listener back to his tenor playing and the challenge that he has set himself and his band; which is to push multiphonic saxophone playing to its extreme within the confines of well composed, well played tonal jazz music. The playing of Giles and Fairhall is very tight, making sure that all the pieces swing. The sounds that Martin finds and works with have an elegance to them that is markedly different from the sort of jarring, squawking that one might associate with overtones and multiphonics and that way in which Martin and his band build these into the pieces is stunning.
Reviewed by Chris Baber