"This is fine and varied modern jazz from Seattle; cleanly executed, intelligently structured, well focused and quite hot..."
Kevin Whitehead, Cadence, October 1988
"Bisio is definitely someone to watch, and his horn players are right behind with their full-bodied sound. This is a tremendously good record, typical 80s jazz with a background in the music of Mingus and Ornette Coleman, together with the work of Albert Ayler, Don Cherry and their ilk."
Birger Jorgensen, Aahus Stiftstidende, March 14, 1988
It's not often that a jazz writer gets to check his perceptions against a musician's, so this was a welcome confirmation, one made convenient by Michael Bisio's delightful presence in Seattle these past years. Since his arrival in 1976 it has been a pleasure to watch Bisio's music grow. Trained as a classical bassist, first at the State University of New York at Albany, then at the University of Washington (where he graduated in music in 1979), Michael makes his living playing the double bass. In symphony, ballet and opera orchestras; on casual dates; or in jazz groups, Bisio's generous, woody sound can be heard all over the Northwest, bowed, plucked or otherwise.
His jazz talents were first tapped locally by the great trumpet, Barbara Donald, who used him on her 1982 album "Pasts and Tomorrows", (Cadence CJR-1017). Bisio went on to record one of the most exciting albums to ever emerge from our area, his 1983 "Ours" (C.T. Records CT1), voted by the critics at Cadence as one of the ten best albums of that year.
Bisio's influences as a bass player are easy to cite – the wide, soulful sweep of Charles Mingus and the probing, moody double-stops of Charlie Haden. In Bisio the composer, I hear Mingus again in the young bassist's dark and slinky horn parts and in his insistence on continuously-evolving forms that follow emotional content instead of dictating it. I hear Ornette Coleman, too – his lonely, passionate wail; his blues; his open space. Mike's new record has a different element – a spare, minimalist quality, a skeletal clarity of intention that calls to mind Max Roach's pianoless groups.
But spare doesn't mean simple. Bisio's music is complex. That same afternoon we spent talking together, Mike related that on a recent gig where altoist Rick Mandyck had to call a sub, the hapless surrogate, wiping his brow with exhaustion, said, "Man, you guys make this stuff look easy!" Part of what makes it look easy is that Bisio and Teo Sutton hook up so well. "Teo is the only drummer I've worked with who really understands my music," Mike says. "So many guys, they figure, Oh hey, free music! – let's go wild – and you feel like you're in Vietnam." What Michael's looking for is subtlety and clarity, and he gets it from Teo on complicated meters and patterns, such as the two-against-three figure on "Babs' E" (and its 7/4 coda); the weird, ticking, 16-beat bass vamp on Mandyck's exquisitely dark "For Pamela"; and the bright and easy calypso written for Michael's three-year-old son, Anthony, "A.M."
Sutton, originally from Philadelphia, has been a sometime sideman on the Seattle scene with Barbara Donald, tenor man Hadley Caliman and others. He recently put in some time with organist John Patton, back in Newark, New Jersey. Trumpeter Ron Soderstrom is a Seattle native who has recorded with pianist Scott Cossu and worked on the R&B and show band circuits in the Northwest. There aren't too many trumpet players who have absorbed both Freddie Hubbard and Don Cherry, but Ron's burbling and articulate excursion on "For Pamela" lets you know he's one who has. Saxophonist Rick Mandyck, who started out on guitar but has been playing sax for eight years, comes out of the Seattle rhythm and blues scene. Dig Rick's sharp attack, fleet phrasing and tone – a cross between Dolphy and Jackie Mclean.
There's a wealth of music on this album. "For Harry Carney," a Sy Johnson tune that Bisio was inspired to interpret from one of Charles Mingus' albums, starts off with a lonely and distant trumpet, then features a stately bass vamp under the horn solos. "A Laugh for Rory" by Roland Kirk, is a short, staccato shot in the arm that's over fast, like a shooting star, and just that flashy, too.
"A.M." is a bright and loping calypso that perfectly captures the happy, early morning mood of a kid running around the house. "Blues for Melodious T," as you might expect, works minor-second magic at a Monkish, medium tempo and then surprises you when the horns come in behind Bisio's solo and end the tune all by their lonesomes. Perfect! "Bab's E" sets up a dark bass complemented by the tom-toms; the two horns have an animated conversation in the foreground that builds until it has to explode somewhere, which it does, into another tempo. Only two of "Greenpeace Suite's" four parts are played here – "Birds" and "Whales."
The first section flies, indeed, at times like a nervous swallow and at others like a graceful bird of prey.
"Whales" is a sad, aching cry, – a plea for survival? "For Pamela," with Mike's wife Barb on hand percussion, has all the qualities that make this an exciting and mature jazz album. Structurally it is brilliant, not only in the way the alternating and unexpected bass pattern bounds beneath the stretched, suspended-in-time horn line but how, after the solos, it suddenly opens up into a new theme, as if all the dark intensity that went before had to break open to some bright, new place. Wow!
These are the kinds of moments we're used to getting in the most intense and committed "free" music – the little surprises and twists, the big shifts of perception. But here they all are, within the "inside" framework of tunes and changes. That's a lot of what jazz in the 80's is all about, and Michael Bisio is right up there with the best. At least that's exactly how I hear it.
Paul de Barros
1. For Harry Carney 09:40
2. A Laugh for Rory 02:03
3. Greenpeace (Take 2) 07:58
4. A.M. 05:34
5. Blues for Melodious T. 07:17
6. For Randy Weston 02:32
7. Babs'e 07:19
8. Greenpeace Suite 06:54
9. Darkness 03:15
10. For Pamela 09:25
11. Sonny Miles 02:03
Michael Bisio bass
Ron Soderstrom trumpet
Rick Mandyck alto sax
Teo Sutton drums
Barbara Bisio percussion