Terrence McManus | Mark Helias | Gerry Hemingway | Transcendental Numbers | No Business Records

Terrence McManus – guitar | Mark Helias – bass | Gerry Hemingway – drums

Tracklist: 1. Written in the Cracking of the Ice (6:25) 2. Upperside (9:04) 3. Junction (12:20) 4. Products of Primes (9:55) 5. The Radio Astronomers (12:05) 6. When We First Left the Oceans (5:32)

Recorded live on January 1, 2009, at The Stone, New York, NY * The guitar played on this recording was built by Terrence McManus * Mastered by Arunas Zujus at MAMAstudios * Design by Oskaras Anosovas * Produced by Terrence McManus and Danas Mikailionis * Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

Terrence McManus | Mark Helias | Gerry Hemingway | Transcendental Numbers | no business records

Over the past few years

I have become increasingly more interested in developing a personal sonic language on the guitar, in an attempt to do things that were not possible through standard ways of playing the guitar. As I continue to consider directions in sound, it is very important to me to maintain the link to my roots and interests in the traditional aspects of improvised performance. This recording captures a moment of synthesis between two worlds: Sound creation, intermingled with a loosely traditional style of trio improvisation.

For a guitarist, the guitar/bass/drums trio format is perhaps the most widely utilized style, and for good reason. The setting allows the guitar considerable freedom with harmony and melody, and the transparency of the guitar permits a certain amount of “air” to be present, developing a looseness where the instruments function more conversationally. No matter what instrumentation I might be involved in, I am continually drawn back to the guitar trio. Its possibilities and its connection to the lineage of the guitar are too tempting to pass up. In my own case, I have had a tendency when thinking about my own role in a trio with bass and drums to be particularly influenced by non-guitar instrumentation trio settings.

The first that comes to mind is the saxophone trio. The feeling here pertains to what is possible with a non-chordal instrumentation. There is a wide variety to draw upon, considering both the conventional and unconventional ways a saxophone can function in a trio. In what would appear to be a direct opposite direction, I have found considerable inspiration in the piano trio format, not so much for the harmonic possibillities, but for the chamber orchestration aspects. The piano has a unique ability to shape direction with the subtleties of touch, space, and varying sound densities.

While there are countless more standard trio formats, and some very unconventional ones, looking to these other formats has allowed me a new way to approach the role of guitar in a trio with bass and drums. I have been very fortunate to play with Gerry and Mark on a regular basis for the last few years. It has been rewarding not only as a professional experience, but also as a learning one. Both lead their own ensembles and are dedicated composers, but to me the most important part of their musical identities is their specific approach to improvisation on their respective instruments. Each has an unmistakable voice, and they have both carved out new paths and techniques that have influenced a generation of improvisers. Something that makes their involvement in this project even more special is the fact neither Gerry nor Mark frequently work with guitarists. The intimate trio format amplifies that sense of rarity.

I should also point out that Gerry and Mark have a history going back over thirty years, and I feel very privileged to be able to tap into a part of that history in such a small group setting. I’m very happy this material was documented and released, and I hope to continue to evolve in this setting. I would like to thank Gerry Hemingway, Mark Helias, Craig Taborn, John Zorn, The Stone, Danas Mikailionis, NoBusiness Records, and my entire family, especially my wife Lucy. — Terrence McManus, November, 2010

Terrence McManus | Mark Helias | Gerry Hemingway | Transcendental Numbers | no business records

Someone who doesn’t listen to avant improvisation

of the sort presented on Transcendental Numbers (No Business NBCD 27) might be at a loss to evaluate it. It’s a free-flowing series of improvisations from the electric guitar of Terrence McManus, the contrabass of Mark Helias and the drums of Gerry Hemingway. There are a few things that can help you evaluate and understand what you hear.

First, “free” doesn’t mean you are entitled to download this gratis. Do that on a pirate site and you’ll make this music impossible to produce on every level and it will disappear. Seriously. Second, keep in mind that “free” doesn’t mean “play any old shoot,” at least in the hands of the accomplished avant improvisers. It means that the players have spent their lives honing their musical abilities so that they bring all they know and can do into the musical session. It means that this trio is free to go in any direction that they see fit. So you get bluesy sounding passages, free commentary of rock-funk forms and earlier jazz without direct engagement or quotation of the licks. It means working within pitch centers (both near and far away from the elemental expression of them). Third, it means directing the musical results toward sound color creation–different ways of playing notes timbre-wise, noise elements, sounds as sound-music. Fourth, “free” music implies a state-of-mind on the part of the players and audience. The moment is the message in some ways. The moment and what the players can do within it. Sixth, a brewing up of tumultuous energy has long been a part of the free avant repertoire. They do that here at times in convincing, moving ways, with McManus sometimes at the same time making a nod to the psychedelic rockers of yesteryear.

Seventh, the players try to develop a feel, phrase, a rhythm or any number of other elements to unify the improvisations. (The alternative is to never repeat anything and that is in part related to the serial composers of the Post-Webern sort, and mind I am not saying that this is a cheap copycatting–it’s just a shared trait. It’s a akin to the idea that music usually utilizes or implies scales. It’s pointless on a certain level to try and pinpoint exactly who first articulated, say, the harmonic minor scale and then go on and accuse everybody else of stealing it.) There is probably an eighth, a ninth, and an x-to-infinity number of points I could make here, but it is 7:24 AM in New Jersey and it’s Tuesday, so I’ll simply press on.

Judging by these criterea and the others I have not systematically articulated on this lovely seasonal morning, Transcendental Numbers hits the target, so to say. McManus can play well with outside electric sounds in what Barry Altschul used to call a “make a sound, make another sound” methodology. McManus can jump in and out of blues and rock tonalities in a meta-commentary sort of way. He can vary his attack so that some figures have staccato rhythmic emphasis (and set up possible counter-commentary in the trio), or he can go for a-rythmia, and/or for legato or alternate-sounding means of producing tones. He can play some clusters of tones, chord-like, articulated in all sorts of ways. And there is more there to his playing on this recording, too. The point is he remains engaging, interesting and freshly creative throughout. Mark Helias and Gerry Hemingway are well-known as adepts at this sort of improvisation. Suffice to say that they do all the things that we’ve alluded to above and they do them well.

The trio in fact is dedicated to that “doing it well in the moment,” and they succeed fully. McManus is too pomo to stick to pure sound as the late Derek Bailey mostly did; and he is too restlessly creative to remain in the land of tone for long periods. He shows throughout that he is one of the more interestingly inventive out guitarists working today; and the trio comprises some of the very best avant improvisers.

So you should try and support this music by buying the CD. You want to know what frio-trio with guitar is all about, here’s a good example. For those who know all that, McManus has his own vision which is apparently in the process of congealing nicely. It’s an encouraging recording for the future McManus and quite interesting listening beyond all of that.– Grego Applegate Edwards

 Terrence McManus | Mark Helias | Gerry Hemingway | Transcendental Numbers | no business records

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2 thoughts on “Terrence McManus | Mark Helias | Gerry Hemingway | Transcendental Numbers | No Business Records

  1. Guitarist Terrence McManus helms a stellar trio on Transcendental Numbers, through six collective concoctions recorded in New York City’s The Stone, straddling and blurring the line between textural improvisation and the more traditional sound of guitar and rhythm section. Brooklyn-born McManus is carving a niche for himself on the scene. Having worked with drummer/composer Tyshawn Sorey, and performed with fellow guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist John Zorn, McManus is currently a member of drummer Gerry Hemingway’s quintet, and finds his boss returning the favor here.

    With an association dating back more than 33 years, the synergy of Hemingway and bassist Mark Helias is a wonder to behold. The pair first came together in the orbit of reed man Anthony Braxton, but they have been featured in each others bands many times since, most notably the cooperative BassDrumBone, along with trombonist Ray Anderson. Alongside their vast experience they also wield an armory of extended techniques which they delve into with gusto, making this a set which would also have been fascinating to witness live.

    The breadth of unconventional sounds for guitar trio is reminiscent of guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil with Totem> on Solar Forge (ESP, 2008), though the overall ethos is not one of such complete deconstruction. Even though there are passages when there is no hint of tune, melody or meter, there is still a sense of form and trajectory, whether it is the steadily increasing crescendo of “When We First Left The Oceans” or the bell-shaped curve of “The Radio Astronomers.” While the threesome flaunts the intensity of a power trio the density is reduced, so there is lots of air in many of the pieces which allows full appreciation of the constituent parts.

    At times the bass and drums slip into their regular roles as on “Upperside” where McManus builds a statement of incisive, insistent phrases and broad slashes over a conversational mid-tempo. Likewise on “Junction” mournful horn-like phrasing from the guitar with blues intimations sparks a loose choppy groove from Helias and Hemingway and an impromptu riff from McManus. “Products of Primes” deals in flinty improv with the bassist’s sweeping arco prominent, pitched against white noise guitar and thudding percussion, before evolving into a propulsive churn.

    Transcendental Numbers shows where the guitar trio might go without totally severing the links to the instrument’s vernacular.

  2. Flanked by a pair of stalwarts who, in his own words, “have a history going back over thirty years”, guitarist Terrence McManus brings the right attitude and a considerable number of no-frills approaches to an instrument that, especially in jazz, has the potential to become the mother of all commonplaces. On the contrary, ever since the opening track “Written In The Cracking Of The Ice”, an unexpected subversion slashes the ears: not a clean pitch in sight, clumsily introverted structures succeeding one after another until the density is spread in different directions at once, a slanted kind of disdainful lyricism ultimately achieved. Instead, “Upperside” sounds like Bill Frisell’s vibrato bar constantly bumped upon by a stumbling drunkard, with added pepper. McManus shows an obstinate, nearly obsessive concise incisiveness, Helias and Hemingway finely sustaining him by shifting the dynamics from classic swing to near-absence of pulse in a matter of instants. Remote echoes of John Scofield appear in certain bluesy phrases during “Junction”; but the most intriguing chapter is perhaps “Products Of Primes”, in which the guitar remains camouflaged under strata of rubbing noises throughout the piece’s first half, before gargling with venomous intentions across the remainder of the improvisation.

    All of the above notwithstanding, the album is characterized by a substantial balance between strident dissonance and absolute enjoyableness. McManus picks and plucks in unusual places, with musicality to spare and in thoroughly dissimilar contexts. The clever alternance of grimy and semi-polished tones makes sure that one’s never welcome with smiles and open arms; however, the trio is positively willing to engage the listener in an efficient interaction, typified by Hemingway’s challenging elasticity in terms of metres (and relative dissolution) and Helias’ hypersensitive class. At times, tics and neuroses are ably contained by a relatively subdued interplay (case in point, “The Radio Astronomers”), the disembowelling of a lone snippet always preferred to gormless Pindaric flights. Three artists unafraid of letting people look at their deviations enriching a record permeated by a healthily explorative temperament.

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