Plymouth sees keyboardist Jamie Saft and guitarist Joe Morris reunited after their collaboration on Slobber Pup‘s ferocious 2013 debut album, Black Aces. Joining them are bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Gerald Cleaver, familiar from long association in Morris’ quartet and elsewhere, and Mary Halvorson, who doubles Morris on guitar. Halvorson once studied and performed with Anthony Braxton. A prolific collaborator, she now leads her own trio, co-leads the trios Thumscrew and People, and plays in an avant-chamber duo with violist Jessica Pavone.
Saft is quoted in publicity as saying that Plymouth was conceived as a way to bring Morris and Halvorson together, but if anything it’s Saft who most shapes the group’s identity.
In Slobber Pup, Saft plays organ run through Marshall amplification, but here he jointly favours acoustic piano fed through Echoplex tape/delay effects. Each of the string players also uses plenty of fx for texture. Lightcap plays a hollowbody electric bass with a fuzz pedal. Of the two guitarists, to generalise, Morris renders notes sharply, in complex sequences, while Halvorson’s bend, slide and sustain, with chordal swells produced by a Whammy Bar pedal.
As “Manomet” (20 mins) gets the album underway, swirling Hammond figures lap against rippling guitar and restless percussion. Morris plays some lovely nimble lines in his instrument’s low range that bleed into Lightcap’s nimbly rhythmic bass figures. Halvorson’s acute attack plays out over increased agitation in the group sound. At length a sustained crescendo, whipped up by Cleaver and substantialised by the others’ interweaving, occasionally spits out shards of individual expression. There’s no prolonged ‘soloing’ though, rather a single mesh of creativity, and it’s actually the moments when no lines seek individuation that seal the music’s effective power. The downward arc of the group’s gradual withdrawal on this track is spiked with surges of restive energy.
“Plimouth” (13 mins) begins with Saft on piano and Morris and Halvorson picking out notes clean or barbed. A neat rhythm, rained down on cymbals and pulsing from subterranean bass lines then signals a change in mood, and the group interplay builds inexorably in intensity and complexity, Saft’s swirling organ slices through an ominous thunderhead accumulating over Lightcap and Cleaver’s driving ostinatos.
“Standish” runs to just under half an hour. Its first eight minutes are taken up with slippery, almost anaesthetic guitar noodling and general atmospherics, before Saft’s Hammond sworls herald a slow, steady collective swell, a push and gathering momentum, until organ sustains and bold bass lines within the weave of strings signal a plateau has been reached. From here, deft guitar interplay covers a controlled diminuendo, until chimes from Saft’s treated piano herald a new beginning. From here, about half way in, the quintet gradually feel their way back through lysergic meandering and a hazy, downtempo, P-Funk-inspired bridging section, until suddenly Saft’s Hammond riffs flower lushly over resurgent bass thrum and drum agitation.
Jamie Saft piano, organs; Joe Morris electric guitars; Mary Halvorson electric guitars; Chris Lightcap electric bass; Gerald Cleaver drums.
Wadada Leo Smith – Red Hill (feat. Jamie Saft).
Slobber Pup – Black Aces + Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – Your Turn.
Perelman Shipp Parker Cleaver – Serendipity.