Levin Torn White (CD Review)

Tony Levin - David Torn - Alan White

S/T

Lazy Bones Recordings

This is a serious super group that delivers on its potential. Besides being session musicians to the stars and leaders on their own projects, bassist Tony Levin, guitarist David Torn, and drummer Alan White have played in countless groups associated with progressive rock, jazz fusion, and improvised music – King Crimson, Yes, and Liquid Tension Experiment chief among them. But this is their first recording together as a trio. And while it is indeed a powerful sound that they make, the music on Levin Torn White is intricately constructed and adventurous in a way that few modern day power trios can hope to emulate.

There’s more than a dash of the spirit of King Crimson – particularly its later lineups – alive in the music created here. Levin, of course, was the Crimson bassist for much of this time period, but Torn and White channel some signatures of Fripp and Mastelotto too. The guitarist’s own atmospheric improvisations are of course distinctive in their own right. But on the ethereal track “Convergence” they can also reasonably be likened to Fripp’s soundscaping. Meanwhile, Torn’s shredding on “Ultra Mullett” emulates the tart dissonances and skronkish squalls one heard from Thrak era Crim.

White propels the action with his characteristically forceful and energetic playing. But he’s able to turn on a nickel with each time change and unorthodox mathy metric configuration on the menu. I’ve long been an admirer of Tony Levin’s work, but he outdoes himself here, laying down thrumming low end and staccato Chapman stick filigrees that crackle with vivacity.

If you’re someone who thinks that fusion and prog – particularly of the instrumental variety – is rife with noodly indulgences and bathetic compositions, this release is strongly recommended as a corrective of your misapprehensions. Those already among the converted will find much in which to delight here. One hopes it isn’t a one-off collaboration: these three seem to be just getting started!

Travis Reuter’s Rotational Templates (CD Review)

Rotational Templates
Travis Reuter Quintet (Travis Reuter, guitar; Jeremy Viner, tenor saxophone; Bobby Avey, Fender Rhodes; Chris Tordini, bass; Jason Nazary, drums)

New Focus Recordings

After its commodification and some excess smooth jazz hybridization in the eighties and nineties, jazz fusion became a somewhat maligned genre. But if you’re fusing jazz signatures and rock instrumentation with the “right stuff,” its flexible profile can be a vehicle for heady music-making and imaginative improvisations. Guitarist Travis Reuter is not only a fine jazz-rock exponent and bandleader; as a composer, he references contemporary classical music, naming modernists such as Elliott Carter as well as the New Complexity composers as interests. On his debut album as leader, Rotational Templates, titles such as “Singular Arrays” and “Flux Derivatives,” as well as the intricately constructed pieces to which they are appended, demonstrate this connection.

Of course, Reuter isn’t the only musician exploring this particular amalgam. Tyshawn Sorey and Matthew Shipp have long been interested in similar integrations of avant-classical into jazz. But Reuter adds a layer of fusion to the mix, giving us an ample dose of structured yet nimble riffing, reminiscent in places of Alan Holdsworth, that suits the ornate constructions of his hybrid compositions.

His collaborators make strong contributions as well. Avey’s linear solos dovetail with Reuter’s melodies in a savory duet on “Singular Arrays.” Meanwhile, Viner and Reuter join to play a unison head on “Flux Derivatives,” but then diverge for their own solo turns. Viner’s is filled with ecstatic, free jazz inflected, angularities and the occasional stratospheric wail. He’s also exemplary on “Residency at 20 (Part 2)” adding exultant altissimo passages and post-blues flourishes to its avant jazz template. Tordini and Nazary create fulsome grooves that propel the action but are never obtrusive. Joined by Avey, they create piquant post-tonal changes and flexible phrases that undergird the soloists with fascinating harmonic contours.

All of this is accomplished without losing a sense of jazz’s swinging vitality: quite a feat for a debut!