Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space / Time · Redemption
TUM Records

To say that the reputations of drummer Milford Graves and bassist Bill Laswell precede them on this first duo recording would be an almost ridiculous understatement. Laswell's of course well-known for the staggering volume of work he's produced as a musician and producer since the early ‘80s, whether it be playing in groups such as Material (initially with Michael Beinhorn), Last Exit (alongside guitarist Sonny Sharrock, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson), The Golden Palominos, and Arcana (featuring guitarist Derek Bailey and drummer Tony Williams), performing with the likes of Ginger Baker and James “Blood” Ulmer, or producing innumerable sessions for artists such as Sly and Robbie, Henry Threadgill, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, and Herbie Hancock. Born on August 20, 1941 in New York, Graves came to prominence in the ‘60s as part of the city's avant-garde and free jazz scenes, as a member of the New York Art Quartet, and through his involvement in groups led by Albert Ayler, Don Pullen, and Sonny Sharrock, among others. More recently, Graves has worked with David Murray, John Zorn, and Anthony Braxton, and has performed with Laswell as a duo at The Stone and other New York locales. A turning point came in 1962 when Graves saw Elvin Jones perform with John Coltrane, an experience that no helped direct Graves on the explorative path he's followed throughout his career.

Issued on the Finnish label TUM Records, the hour-long Space / Time · Redemption features the duo on five extended improvisations that were laid down in September and October of 2013 at Laswell's studio in West Orange, New Jersey (the bassist also produced the release). Laswell himself deftly articulates the challenge of playing with his partner: “Understanding the unique rhythmic thrust and fractured sonic patterns of Milford Graves's tribal matrix is like trying to synchronize raindrops. Time is lapsed, accelerated and finally erased.” Consistent with that description, the playing on the album is elastic and unconstrained by notions of regulated meter. Laswell's playing fluidly alternates between pure improvisation and occasional thematic statements (the one surfacing during the opening “Eternal Signs” the most memorable), the bass sound he established decades ago immediately identifiable as his on the new material; driving the music forward with nonstop showers of cymbals, hi-hats, tom-toms, and percussive flourishes, Graves stokes an irrepressible fire of spontaneous commentary throughout the recording, and there are moments when his playing calls to mind the similarly robust invention of kindred spirits Famoudou Don Moye and Ronald Shannon Jackson.

Laswell introduces “Sonny Sharrock” on an elegiac note that might be construed as a nod of tribute to the bassist's late Last Exit partner before Graves takes flight with a characteristically volcanic attack. He digs into “Autopossession” even more ferociously, so much so that the listener can't help be awed by the energy emanating from the seventy-three-year-old drummer. The two dive deep in these pieces, especially when the long-form nature of the improvs, which range between nine and seventeen minutes, allows them room to do so. Admittedly, any album that features the playing of a bassist and drummer only can't help but lack the melodic flavour a lead soloist such as a guitarist or saxophonist would bring to the project, and that's admittedly true of Space / Time · Redemption, even if Laswell works hard at adding that quality where space permits. But even if the album's lean on melodic grounds, it still provides a wonderful opportunity to observe Graves and Laswell in action, as well as offers the listener the chance to revisit the experience repeatedly which a live set by the duo wouldn't provide in the same way.

May 2015