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Formidable free jazz

CHRIS SEARLE Listens to three great British jazzmen

Hession Wilkinson/Fell

Two Falls & A Submission

(Bo'Weavil 44cd)

Alan Wilkinson


(Bo'Weavil 45cd)

Simon H Fell

Frank and Max

(Bo'Weavil 43cd)

A formidable trio here - two Yorkshiremen and a Londoner who first began playing as a threesome in 1989.

"White heat improvisation; full throttle free jazz" is how The Wire described their music, while The Guardian's John Fordham wrote of their "unquenchable energy ... spontaneous music of a scorching and unrelenting intensity."

Drummer Paul Hession was born in Leeds in 1956 and found his first live music singing in his church choir as a seven-year-old.

He was a self-taught teenage drum enthusiast who played rock 'n' roll in working men's clubs before hearing Elvin Jones at Ronnie Scott's in 1975 switched his life around.

He turned to free jazz, helped to form the Termite Club in Leeds and has since played with some of the music's great horns from Joe McPhee and Marshall Allen to Evan Parker and Peter Brotzmann.

Simon Fell is a Dewsbury bassist, born in 1959. He studied English literature at Cambridge and has led a full musical life as both instrumentalist and composer, establishing his own record label (Bruce's Fingers) and a number of free improvising groups from Badland to the "electro acoustic improvisation" of IST, which in contrast to Hession/Wilkinson/Fell pursued a much more quiet and serene sonic approach.

The reedman is the London-born (in 1954) soprano, alto and baritone saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, who studied fine arts at Leeds University before working with Hession to create the Termite Club and developing his powerfully abrasive and gutteral saxophone voice in Leeds, and London after 1990, and also in New York where he made a trio with the duo Talibam!

Two Falls & A Submission celebrates 21 years as a trio by remembering childhood delights watching televised wrestling - and the real thing too, as Hession's evocation of live matches over Leeds's Roundhay Park as a boy in his sleeve notes testify.

Musical "grappling" is a metaphor he uses to apply to the trio's interactions.

"We can throw each other around and pin each other to the the canvas," he analogises.

And from the first notes of the opener First Fall you know exactly what he means.

Wilkinson's alto is sizzling, Hession's burning drums are everywhere and Fell is somewhere beneath it all, delving, tunnelling.

The horn is angry, irascible, full of bite and when it becomes a baritone it sounds even more implacable, with Hession's skins answering blow by blow for almost 33 minutes.

You wonder what the listeners in the Queen's Head, Monmouth, made of it all, particularly when Fell emerges from the undersounds to create a series of rasping and agonised bow motifs which set the nerve endings crackling.

Wilkinson's solo baritone fusillade which sets off The Submission seems like a provocation to his two confreres and wrestling begins to seem the mildest of conceits for the uproar which follows.

Second Fall has a more bluesy timbre, with Wilkinson's woesome horn stoking more and more fury from Hession's thunderous pulses, and seeming to almost crack open the highest part of its register.

At two sessions in January 2010 and July 2011 Wilkinson cut the tracks of his new solo album Practice in Stoke Newington, north-east London, following the years he spent in a "practice space" in a disused hospital in Dalston, also north-east London.

It all expands the truth that Dalston, with its vibrant performing venues like The Vortex and Cafe Oto, is now the leading and throbbing jazz 'hood of the capital, emphasised by Wilkinson's two long outings, Flush Dalston No 2 and Dalston No 1 which, as with the rest of the tracks, burn with artistry and sonic intensity.

In the former he starts off by snoring though his horn as well as kissing the stars.

Wilkinson is a saxophone and multiphonics originator, audacious and musically brilliant to the core - listen to his haunting version of Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman. It stays with you relentlessly.

Fell has his own solo album in Frank And Max: Bass Solos 2001-2011, half recorded in the Old School at Bracon Ash in Norfolk, the other tracks cut in St Dizier-Leyrenne in Creuse, France.

His pieces are mostly dedicated to great bass men from the US (Mingus and Barre Phillips); Britain (Barry Guy and John Edwards) and South Africa (Harry Miller) plus one to his wife Jo (who made his five-string bass) and Patrick Charton, the French bassmaker who tuned it and set it up for playing.

So the album becomes a praisesong to the bass, to its beauty, complexity and, in a host of skilled hands, to its humanity.

Fell's bow-stroked strings seem to be weeping through the compelling For John Edwards, while the essay to Phillips is made of fingers as strong as the earth.

The piece to Guy creaks and scurries eerily from the veldtlands of the imagination.

But Fell's rendition of Bill Evans's Turn Out The Stars is his apex, freeborn yet carrying and carried by Evans's tune, and superbly climaxing an astonishing record.


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