I’d admired bassist and composer Rob Clutton’s previous recording, the duo Offering with New York avant-gardist Tony Malaby (2019, also on Snailbongbong). It was aptly described by Downbeat as “expansive and sensitive in spirit”, and that seems a good description of the present album also, which features an all-Canadian trio of alto saxophone, bass and drums.
The two albums have a common compositional approach: several pieces began as deconstructions of improvised bass lines from Clutton’s archive of recordings. In both cases, there’s a richness and fluidity to the music-making that’s very engaging.
Clutton is a long-time and formidable presence on the Toronto jazz scene, which is a major one. He has a song-based project called the Cluttertones, but recordings have focused on more avant-garde material. On Counsel his very simpatico partners are Nick Fraser and Karen Ng, the latter a compelling, original voice on alto saxophone. Her playing isn’t as bluesy as Ornette Coleman’s, but it’s a sound that couldn’t have existed without the jazz revolution that Coleman wrought. Early influences – she explains by email – were Lee Konitz and Lester Young as well as Ornette, and she studied with the ICP (Instant Composer’s Pool). It figures that she’s a fan of cool players Steve Lacy, John Carter, Jimmy Giuffre, Julius Hemphill and Marion Brown.
The trio is wonderfully balanced, the soloists are fully exposed – it’s beautifully honest playing, in the manner of Lee Konitz.
The album begins with Strata, in which sax and drums are prominent; an insistent cymbal pulse interacts with free and tonally complex work from the saxophonist. Festival has an Ornette Coleman-ish ethos, with Fraser echoing the march feel of Ed Blackwell. In the dirge-like Sterling, saxophone and arco bass explore dark, broken phrases in a kind of lugubrious heterophony; percussion is subdued but gradually expands its role through the piece. The stately Old Nick, and the jaunty, bucolic Shelter that follows it, make a neat contrast – Ng’s soloing here is beautifully nuanced.
The 10 tracks add up to a very substantial, varied and rewarding musical experience.
Hear/buy Rob Clutton Trio: Counsel Of Primaries at robclutton.bandcamp.com/album/counsel-of-primaries
Strata; Festival; Sterling; Counsel of Primaries; Cloak; Hounds; Thing One; Old Nick; Shelter; Magnetic (66.31)
Karen Ng (as); Rob Clutton (b); Nick Fraser (d). Toronto, nd.
Snailbongbong Records SBB007