Oluyemi Thomas – bass clarinet, flute, soprano, musette, percussion; | Sirone – bass; | Michael Wimberly – drums, percussion.
All compositions by Oluyemi Thomas (Oluijeo Unit Music ASCAP, Sirone (Serious Music BMI) and Michael Wimberly (Bee Humble Publishing) * Recorded by Robert O’Haire at the Brecht Forum 2008 * Mixed by Michael Wimberly * Mastered by Arunas Zujus at MAMAstudios * Cover design by Oskaras Anosovas * Producer Danas Mikailionis * Co-producer – Valerij Anosov
Tracks on CD: 1. Beneath Tones Floor (6‘47“) 2. … where Sacred Lives (3‘37“) 3. Mystic Way (6‘36“) 4. Reflections Of Silence, Painting Silence, Images Of Silence (9‘27“) 5. Dream Worlds (3’22”)6. Newest Happiness and Joy (3’23”) 7. Rotation 360 Degrees Hummingbird (6’49”) 8. Heavenly Wisdom (8’50“) 9. Silence On The Move (6‘35“) 10. Spirit Of Ifa (6‘43“)
Tracks on LP : Side A 1. Beneath Tones Floor 2. … where Sacred Lives 3. Mystic Way 4. Reflections Of Silence, Painting Silence, Images Of Silence Side B 1. Dream Worlds 2. Newest Happiness and Joy 3. Rotation 360 Degrees Hummingbird 4. Heavenly Wisdom
finish the set
last notes hollow the chorophonic wood
sweat sweetened ebony inside
the space that leaving makes
between the bass line breathes
where Sacred lives
strings speak in tongues
wash the sun starved world
a thrilling dark tone touch
ancient echoes at the intersection
of acoustic atoms
a veined clinched eye
watching us return
turning salt to sustenance
read the Writings of the Messenger of Joy
that cause the youngest trees to bend
into the earths cyclic score
in ten finger time talking
with vocal cords of eardrum essence
the never rupted revolution
sheds winters weight
extended solo a single word
for death and life
Ijeoma C. Thomas – Sirone’s last recording
Sirone | Photo by John Rogers
Norris Jones, better known as Sirone
(September 28, 1940 – October 21, 2009) was an American jazz bassist and composer. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Sirone worked in Atlanta late in the 1950s and early in the 1960s with “The Group” alongside George Adams; he also recorded with R&B musicians such as Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson. He moved to New York City in the middle of the 1960s, where he co-founded the “Untraditional Jazz Improvisational Team” with Dave Burrell. He also worked with Marion Brown, Gato Barbieri, Pharoah Sanders, Noah Howard, Sonny Sharrock, Sunny Murray, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and Sun Ra. He co-founded the Revolutionary Ensemble with Leroy Jenkins and Frank Clayton in 1971; Jerome Cooper later replaced Clayton in the ensemble, which was active for much of the decade. In the 1970s and early 1980s Sirone recorded with Clifford Thornton, Roswell Rudd, Dewey Redman, Cecil Taylor, and Walt Dickerson. In the 1980s, he was member of Phalanx, a group with guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, drummer Rashied Ali, and tenor saxophonist George Adams. From 1989 he lived in Berlin, Germany where he was active with his group ‘Concord’ (with Ben Abarbanel-Wolff and Uli Bartell.) He was involved in theater, film, and was a practicing Buddhist. He died on October 21, 2009.
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)
LP version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)
Best-known when he anchored the Revolutionary Ensemble in the 1970s, bassist Sirone (born Norris Jones) adds his rhythmic power and invention to this exemplary trio set recorded at the Brecht Forum in 2008. But there’s no feeling that the bassist, who before his death at 69 in 2009 lived in Berlin, is anything but an equal partner here. Other band members are multi-reedist Oluyemi Thomas, a visitor from Oakland, Calif., and local percussionist Michael Wimberly.
Sirone’s tough strumming and col legno patterning add the appropriate connecting thread to the 10 tracks which flow seamlessly into one another. Wimberly, whose bass and saxophone associates have included such distinctive improvisers as Charles Gayle and Wilber Morris, knows exactly how to color the proceedings; using cross sticking, focused rim shots and clattering rumbles.
On top of Sirone’s flamenco guitar-like facility and the drummer’s sympathetic understatements, which on a piece like “Silence On The Move” zip from martial pacing to stick friction without losing the beat, Thomas extemporizes equally on all his horns. Beginning a capella, “Heavenly Wisdom” showcases guttural bass clarinet smears mixed with vocalized hums that evolve when the bassist adds a moderato bowed line. Thomas’ soprano saxophone barks move to fluttering tonguing on the title track and elsewhere into disjointed multiphonics. Most notable is the dramatic contrast on “Reflections of Silence, Painting Silence, Images Of Silence” which match the bassist’s wood-vibrating licks with either Thomas’ Pied Piper-like flute peeps or pinched musette shrills.
Sirone’s death means this rare example of cohesive, in-the-moment improvising can never be repeated. Luckily someone had the foresight to record this program.
Combining the beauty of art, poetry and music this beautiful package (available as compact disc or LP) makes for a fitting send off for the great bassist Sirone who passed away not long after this recording was completed. Along with Sirone’s deep and resonant bass, the musicians in this collective performance include Oluyemi Thomas on bass clarinet, flute, soprano, musette and percussion (he also composed the music) and Michael Wimberly on drums and percussion. Like the meditative poem that is included in the liner notes and the web site, the music unfolds gradually, with a sense of calm dignity that shows the musicians compassion for the performance and the Cosmos at large.
There is spaciousness amongst the trio that allows their music to develop in an organic and unhurried manner. Despite the relative quiet of the music, they cover a lot of ground, especially rhythmically, performing tracks like “Silence on the Move” where the shifting musical center creates an alluring and hypnotic sense of suspended animation. “Reflections of Silence, Painting Silence, Images Of Silence” shows the band sculpting sound and the lack of sound in an manner reminiscent of Roscoe Mitchell’s classic early recordings. The trios ability to improvise together as a collective unit and to sculpt the sound world around them makes this an impressive recording that deserves careful consideration and close listening.
Beneath Tones Floor is the last recording of Sirone (born as Norris Jones) and could serve as a fitting memorial to the great bassist as he is featured prominently throughout this egalitarian display. Perhaps best known as one-third of the legendary loft jazz outfit The Revolutionary Ensemble, Sirone also appeared alongside a galaxy of New Thing names including saxophonists Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders and pianist Cecil Taylor, indicative of his astounding tone and sure sense of note placement. Joining him here in a 2008 live date from the Brecht Forum in NYC are Bay Area reed man Oluyemi Thomas and Cleveland native, drummer Michael Wimberly.
Part of the strength of this set, spread across 10 spontaneously generated pieces, is the tension created as the three never totally cut loose. They simmer with fierce intent, occasionally flaring but avoiding total combustion. Another of the main attractions is the intersection between Sirone’s rich so-deep-it-is-almost-subterranean bass and Thomas’ bass clarinet. Working through insistent phrases with the vocalized edge of an Eric Dolphy, the reed man overlays a nervy yelp in the upper register onto his gruff exclamations, while he is nasal on the musette but full-toned and astringent on soprano saxophone. Wimberly colors the exchanges, stoking the fires when needed, but largely supplies unselfish support for the double act of celebrated protagonists.
Though separately titled, the first five cuts form one continuous piece, as do the next two. But irrespective of demarcation, there is an abundance of both solo space and interaction. Considered improvisation opens the title track with Sirone plucking a vividly resonant counterpoint to Thomas’ impassioned ruminations, all underpinned by sparse percussive textures. By the segue into “Where Sacred Lives,” the bassist is alone, interpolating twanging single notes and vocal shouts into his energetic strums, while “Mystic Way” echoes the opening dialogue with the reed man’s exuberant bass clarinet, braided with a sweeping bass impasto. “Heavenly Wisdom” begins with Thomas’ spiritual-tinged bass clarinet, switching between sonorous woody mediations and squealing falsetto with split tones. Sirone’s arco bass follows in delicious contrast, like a darkly anguished Bach Invention, accompanied by Wimberly’s rumbling drums, the pairing conjuring one more high point on this fine album.
Reed player Oluyemi Thomas has said that music has an element of prayer in it. That’s certainly true of the music on this album with bassist Sirone and drummer Wimberly; its supplication, compassion, and sanctified joy is prayerful indeed. It’s also artfully contrived free jazz improvisation that makes brilliant use of contrasts in color and texture, instrumentation, and structure.
Oluyemi’s instrumental evocations and abstractions of the human voice, which he plays on bass clarinet, flute, soprano sax, and musette, have a soft-edged lilt that conveys both strength and an essential lovingness. His unique bass clarinet conception, totally unlike Eric Dolphy’s, is especially infused with the sound of the human voice. He uses a personal intervallic vocabulary that gives a characteristic profile to his lines and phrases, which echo speech cadences as he works his way from short phrases into longer and longer ribbons of textured color.
The trio, which the San Francisco-based Thomas assembled for the 2008 concert at New York City’s Brecht Forum captured on this CD, are sure hands at free jazz improvisation. Each improvisation develops organically at its own pace, and without any fixed plan. The first three tracks form a suite nearly 17 minutes long. In contrast, “Dream Worlds” is just a tidy three minutes long, but they pack a lot into it, from a bass and drums duo to a drums and soprano sax dialog to a concluding trio. “Heavenly Wisdom” evolves in an additive manner, beginning with Thomas’s opening bass clarinet solo which Sirone and Wimberly successively join.
Besides their careful attention to instrumentation and forms, the contrasts in color, texture, and sound among the trio members further contributes to the music’s variety. Each of Sirone’s notes are decisive, they hit hard, almost with a suppressed fury. His low notes thunder and throb, but there’s a willow-switch litheness and lightness of color to his higher notes. On “Spirit of Ifa” and the title track, the sharp report of his plucked notes cut through the ensemble. The hyper-Paul Chambers rasp and soaring arch of his bowing on “Mystic Way” creates waves of sound that envelops and complements the surging and increasingly ecstatic bass clarinet of Thomas. Wimberly plays drums with attention to dynamics, melodic contours, density, and colors, all of which work to put him on an equal footing with his band mates even as he contributes the rhythms that keep the music pulsing.
More than elegant formal musical elements make this a disc worth listening to, however. Thomas, Sirone, and Wimberly play with a fervor imparted by a belief that what they’re creating is more majestic, vaster, than the individual. There’s a genuine feeling of praise and celebration, a hope borne of faith in a spiritual realm, and an energy and urgency that’s needed to break the bonds and illusions of this world and reach a higher truth. Beautiful stuff.
So far, I have only reviewed one CD, Nigeria, by saxophonist Oluyemi Thomas, and I praised it for its poetic power.That I have not reviewed many albums by him has more to do with his limited number of recordings than with the quality of his playing.
Thomas, wo plays bass clarinet, flute, soprano, musette and percussion on this album is joined by the late Sirone on bass and Michael Wimberly on drums. As on “Nigeria”, the poetic power is still present, in the best of free jazz improvisations, with incredible openness, a total lack of structure, plenty of soloing. The album was recorded in 2008, in the year before the great bassist passed away. And for his fans – this is a must-have : there is as much soloing by Sirone as by the reedist, a real treat.
The absolute power of this album is the common language of all three musicians. Thomas’ is much more an emotional player than a technical performer, and his notes are warm, sensitive, expressive, full of spiritual and human physicality at the same time, qualities that are all too present in Sirone’s playing too. I did not know Michael Wimberley, and he is great in this setting, often taking a step back, letting the two other players do their thing, but he is magnificent in his rumbling duet with Thomas on “Dream Worlds”.
This is deep music, as its title suggests, free in the associations, but not in loudness or volume, quite on the contrary, it is about timbre, about the coloring of feeling, the expression of universal emotions that can only manifest themselves through music … and all this in a quite intimate setting. Expansive intimacy is the paradox that comes to mind, and possibly describes the inherent tension in the music quite well.
To balance the content of last couple of reviews (big groups, orchestral compositions, string quartets etc) I jumped into the music of this improvising trio, and it’s quite a big contrast.
This is free-jazz at its best. With fantastic musicianship throughout, with ideas flowing freely in and out, with the band members both reacting to one another and pushing each other forward, sometimes acting like three minds in one body. A journey, a mystical revelation, a metaphysical experience.
Sirone is absolutely impressive, in complete command of the sound, squeezing out all kinds of creative forces from the bass (deep woody tone in “Newest Happines and Joy”, gently, mournfull arco in “Heavenly Wisdom”, raw and powerfull in “Mystic Way”). Wimberly’s playing is delicate, full of subtleties, with polyrhythmic, pulsating touches of Africa everywhere, a heir of Ed Blackwell maybe (listen to how he begins “Dream Worlds” or “Silence On The Move”). Oluyemi Thomas inspired and spiritual playing expands the sonic palette of a common free-jazz trio with the ancient and ethnic sound of musette, flute or extended techniques on bass clarinet (crying overtones and deep blues lines in the “Heavenly Widom”).
This playing comes directly from the early traditions of AACM – shamanic ritual, musicians channeling universal forces of nature, prophets of sound. The music of joy, of compassion, of life affirmation, creation of free and untamed minds and souls, wild and passionate. The spritual value is underlined by the titles like “Reflections of Silence, Painting Silence, Images of Silence” or “..where Sacred Lives” (or the ones mentioned earlier). This could be recorded 40 years ago, or 40 years into the future, or even 4 centuries back, the music is so timeless, its emotional charge and impact wouldn’t be affected.
As much as it defies the time, it does defy also the verbal perception. A pure joy of listening, not to be missed by any free-jazz fan.
Not for nothing was Oakland multi-reedist Oluyemi Thomas described as “the magical mystery man of the West Coast.” His duet album with Henry Grimes was a singular pleasure, and his group Positive Knowledge, with his wife, poet Ijeoma Thomas, has been a local free-jazz fixture for many years. So the prospect of a disc pairing him with late bass legend Sirone (Revolutionary Ensemble) was enticing to say the least.
The album’s title accurately describes the deep, dark, woody textures that anchor the music. The first sounds you hear are the bass and bass clarinet initiating a quiet dialogue, and from there the intensity level rises, ebbing at times down to solo instrumental statements, then returning like a tsunami of full-throated free-jazz screaming. Listening to it is virtually telepathic.
Record label No Business posits this as Sirone’s final American recording, and it does him proud. Beneath was recorded live in 2008 at the Brecht Forum in New York, within a year of Sirone’s passing, but he sounds like he may as well be 21. Unfortunately, the bass tone suffers from what sounds like a direct signal, but that doesn’t diminish the power of the music or Sirone’s monumental ability on his instrument. Thomas brings a barrage of extended techinques, wailing, squealing, shrieking, and whispering, switching at times to musette, flute, soprano sax, and even percussion. For his part, Wimberly seems glued to Sirone, and only occasionally steps to the fore. The three players coalesce as if they had played together repeatedly instead of just once. As a unit, they make a forceful statement.