Steve Swell’s Slammin’ The Infinite | 5000 Poems | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2009 | MW 827-2 | CD

Steve Swell – trombone, compositions | Sabir Mateen – alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, alto clarinet, flute | John Blum – piano | Matthew Heyner – bass | Klaus Kugel – drums

All compositions by Steve Swell ( Steve Swell Music / BMI). Recorded live at Park West Studios, NYC January 24, 2007. Engineer: Jim Clouse. Producer: Marek Winiarski. Photos: Nuno Marins, Cees van de Ven, Michael Wilderman. Cover: “The Face” by Andrzej L. Turek (stick-in picture on paper 15cm x 19cm). Design: Andrzej Wojnowski

Tracklist: 1. Not Their Kind [08:32] 2. Sketch 1 [08:05] 3. Where Are The Heartfelt? [12:28] 4. My Myth Of Perfection [14:20] 5. The Only Way.Out [15:33] 6. Sketch 2 [04:01] 7. The Darkness Afoot [13:46] Total time: 76:45

Slammin’ IV – 5.000 Poems

The title for this fourth installment of Slammin’ The Infinite takes its name from an essay by Walt Whitman. His theme in this essay, briefly summarized, is that in all art, and life too for that matter, being prolific, hardworking and productive in all you do, including trying those things whose outcome may not be exactly perfect in one’s mind, will eventually lead to that one good idea or work of art.

Farmers after all plant many seeds, not just one, in the hope that some of those seeds will yield a nourishing crop. So it is with how I view my own work as an improvising musician and composer. Only by constantly creating can there be any hope that some of that creating will yield something worthwhile. Something that will mean something to someone, making that connection to even that one listener that might be moved and nourished by this most human of endeavors.

I am fortunate to have a band that is still working together planting those seeds as a band and as individuals throughout the world always in the hope of creating that one crop of abundance that might fill the listener with strenght and hope and life.

Also, there would be no ground to plant these musical seeds if it weren’t for the likes of Marek Winiarski, the wonderful people of Alchemia in Krakow and that most gentle and wisest of gardeners, Barbara Backer Manes. Thanking them all here does not even scratch the surface of their commitment to this music and to me personally. To all of them and the amazing musicians on this recording that I have been fortunate to work with, I am humbly grateful. — Steve Swell

Steve Swell | Photo by Michael Galinsky

Steve Swell

“One of the most adventurous and prolific members of the New York free-jazz community” according to Ed Hazell of Signal To Noise , Steve Swell’s reputation, work ethic and committment to excellence has kept him in the forefront of improvised music and a leading voice on his instrument for more than 20 years. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Steve Swell has been an active member of the New York music community since 1975. He has established himself as a premiere leader and sideman of some of the most exciting groups ever assembled, giving performances at festivals, clubs and theaters in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America. His composing talents have been recognized the world over. His “Suite for Players, Dreamers and other Listeners” was voted number 2 in the 2006 Cadence Reader’s Poll.

Swell’s curiosity and need to create has led him to becoming a much heralded sideman affording him the opportunity to participate as an integral part of groups led by some of the most renown musicians in the jazz and improvised worlds. Among those notables are Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, William Parker, Alan Silva, Roswell Rudd, Jemeel Moondoc, Ken Vandermark, Makanda Ken McIntyre, Roscoe Mithcell, Rob Mazurek, Dave Burrell, Elliott Sharp and Bill Dixon to name a few. Swell has thirty recordings as a leader or co-leader and is a featured artist on more than ninety other releases. He has taught master classes at universities, elementary schools, high schools, shelters and community centers all across the U.S, and Europe. He is also a teaching artist in the NYC public school system working mostly with special needs children and was awarded a Jubilation Foundation Fellowship Award of the Tides Foundation in 2008 for recognition of that work. Steve is constantly searching new ways in which to express his restless imagination in his music through his composing and trombone playing.

Touchingextremes.com says of Swell’s trombone playing : “We are ever so lucky to have friends like Steve Swell, who plays the damn thing as if that was the last day of his life, injecting the music with huge soul, gravitational pulls towards the right energy channels and astounding technical wizardry.” In 2008 he was nominated Trombonist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and was named Trombonist of the Year, 2008, 2009 & 2010 by the Argentinean journal, “El Intruso.” Steve was chosen for the Trombone category of the 2010 Downbeat Critics Poll.

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2 thoughts on “Steve Swell’s Slammin’ The Infinite | 5000 Poems | Not Two Records

  1. Using something that Walt Whitman said about prolific writing, trombonist Steve Swell posits that the more he creates—the more he writes and therefore performs—the more likely he is to produce something worthwhile. Although he does not mention it, this also suggests pushing the boundaries and being nonjudgmental about any of his work until he arrives at something of substantive value. What this might be is impossible to predict, until it is actually created and performed, and the response to it is presumably evaluated. In the event that all the pieces fit, the musicians, listeners and critics alike are wowed, and the process of creation goes on. Perhaps the act of creation goes on, irrespective as it might take a substantial body of work to find the music with heart. Thus, Swell’s group, Slammin’ The Infinite, and 5000 Poems.

    Swell is certainly aware, of course, that infinity itself is finite somewhere along the time-space continuum, even though mathematics once suggested otherwise. Still, it is safe to use this proposition, or hypothesis, at least for the purposes of this album. So, tracks are seemingly interminable, soli intertwine like excruciatingly energetically charged particles of a constantly changing whole. Swell’s growling and painterly smears bleat and splat at low or high velocity, as the trombonist bobs in and out of his solo, dancing around the saxophones or clarinets that Sabir Mateen might wield like a medieval apothecary, casting a mysterious spell with harmonic intensity. And both instruments are swathed in the dense ocean of rhythm and harmony from pianist John Blum, or bassist Matthew Heyner’s and Klaus Kugel’s rapid rumbling drums and shimmering cymbals.

    The music is deeply exploratory. Titles may sound cold and dripping with irony, as in “Not Their Kind, ” which is actually quite emotionally charged and accessible; “Sketch #1” and “Sketch #2” plunge into the infinite with vast tonal palettes that converge in mighty squiggles, as amorphous as complex cellular animals reproducing on a canvas. “Where Are The Heartfelt” is a dark almost forlorn cry, a kind of woodwinds and reeds chorus baying at the moon in agony. “The Myth of Perfection” dives into the heart and soul of the song itself as it searches, yet debunks the idea that there could be any such thing at all. But as it emerges from its musical expedition, a song as imperfect, yet beautiful as a natural gem could be is exposed. “The Only Way…Out” and “The Darkness Afoot” bend even further back than Whitman; possibly even as far back as Dante and the proverbial Inferno, a constant reminder of the circle of life, perhaps.

    And yet, despite its bleak suggestiveness, Steve Swell’s Slammin The Infinite works to quell negativity and make out as if the only thing that matters is the creation of something positive; something that might stand out and become what Whitman ended up creating: a song of epic proportions.

  2. There was a time when the addition of a chordal instrument such as piano to a horn-led free jazz quartet would have been viewed as a nod to the mainstream. But not the case now and especially not when the pianist in question is John Blum and the group is trombonist Steve Swell’s Slammin’ The Infinite. Underground legend Blum stays on board for their fourth outing after his guest appearance on Live At The Vision Festival (Not Two, 2008) and it pays dividends.

    Although a studio date, the fulsome 76-minute playing time permits a stretching out as if in performance. Part of Slammin’s appeal lies in the trademark simultaneous blowing by Sabir Mateen’s mellifluous reeds, ever ready to spiral beyond the treble clef into stratospheric falsetto, and the leader’s rough-hewn yet finely nuanced trombone, bolstered now by Blum’s careening piano. Even when not soloing the pianist’s controlled abandon demands attention. On bass, Matt Heyner breathes life into riffs, quickly deconstructed once ingrained on the listener’s consciousness and plots more abstract musings with bow in hand while drummer Klaus Kugel drives the ensembles yet also explores texture, as in his shimmering feature on “The Darkness Afoot.”

    In its round of solos, “Not Their Kind” introduces the band, with Mateen’s opening foray, forged from concentrated tonal distortions, culminating in a dog-bothering whistle, a particular statement of intent. Notwithstanding Swell’s punchy heads, “The Only Way…Out” could almost act as their manifesto: freeform ensembles spawning tension and release via energetic outpourings until a cathartic resolution. Further quicksilver interplay is everywhere: framed by the buoyant counterpoint of the two “Sketches” while “My Myth Of Perfection” contrasts dark mournful voicings with slow burning passion.

    The album title alludes to a Walt Whitman essay suggesting that great art comes through perseverance, but, in fact, Swell’s success rate is consistently high and with 5000 Poems the trombonist smashes another home run.

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