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Experimental, listenable

L'histoire du Clochard (The Bum's Tale)
L'histoire du Clochard (The Bum's Tale)
By Steve Swallow – Ohad Talmor Sextet

Palmetto Records: 2004

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This review first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Turbula.

Bassist Steve Swallow's newest outing is among his most far-out – and in his case, that's saying something. The longtime musical cohort of avant-gardist Carla Bley has assembled a mixed brass-and-strings sextet that covers everything from modern chamber to free jazz to ensemble improvisation.

This album is likely to be a bit of an acquired taste. If not as dissonant or annoying as, say, Yoko Ono, there's nothing here to hum along to. It's not outrageous, though, and in fact is a fairly melodic approach to improvisational experimental music. It's far less combustible than Henry Threadgill, not as harried as Ornette Coleman.

The slowed-down pace lets the soloists convey a feeling of relaxed exploration. In that, this album is not so far removed from what Lester Bowie was doing toward the end of his career.

What really sets this album apart, even from other out-there experimental fare, is the unusual instrumentation and voicing of those instruments. Having trombone and clarinet trade solos creates a surprisingly warm sound, while Meg Okura's violin has a bright yet ever-so-melancholic quality. Co-leader Ohad Talmor has a silken, fat tone on tenor saxophone that provides another source of warmth throughout, while Swallow tends to stay in the upper register for the most part, sounding much more like a guitar than a bass.