Saturday, September 03, 2005

Low Life At The Bottom End

Vinny Golia ‘A Gift For The Unusual’ Nine Winds NWCD0239

Multi-reedist Vinny Golia started the Nine Winds record label in 1977. Back then he played nine different horns. Almost thirty years on, Golia and friends have released dozens of albums that highlight the talents of many contemporary jazz musicians active in the vibrant but undersung North American West Coast scene. And Golia has steadily added numerous wind instruments to his collection. Which brings us to this recent outing on the Tubax, an updated and user-friendly version of the contrabass saxophone, a huge brass beast that sounds off a full octave below the baritone. The fittingly titled ‘A Gift For The Unusual - Music For Contrabass Saxophone’ is a Tubax feature, resplendent with Golia’s solo and small-group adventures around the bottom-end frequencies of the big horn. The lumbering sax receives a full workout across eleven pieces by the fleet-fingered reed maestro, who clearly relishes the idea of presenting a close encounter with such a rarely heard and astonishing instrument. Several solo pieces plunge the listener deep into the subterranean depths of Tubax territory, where brevity provides the best view. The longer solos tend to get bogged down in the sheer mass of sound. The most successful and purely enjoyable pieces place Golia at the centre of small group interactions, whether in boppish duet with longtime collaborator pianist Wayne Peet, or working off Michael Vlatkovich’s agile and expressive trombone work in trio with bassist Bill Casale. Golia is unafraid of unconventional contexts and creates some creepy sci-fi-noir episodes in a couple of pieces that blend Peet’s ghostly theremin and keyboards with cello and double bass, and on another track Bill Barrett’s chromatic harmonica ( possibly the most unusual instrumental combination I’ve heard in a while ). The lugubrious beast also gets to roar on an overdub piece where five Tubax’s fight it out in an arena of punishing sonic extremity. In spite of some confusing track listings, Vinny and the Tubax both come out as winners. There are a million tenor sax sessions out there to choose from, but less than a handful dedicated to the steam train of saxes. It’s unusual and it works. Take the plunge to the bottom. By Matt Krieg
www.ninewinds.com

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