“Without much fanfare, Chris Speed’s originality, chops, and melodicism have made him one of the best tenor-sax and clarinet players in today’s avant-garde.”
— Harvey Pekar, Jazziz
The second release by Speed’s New York quartet Yeah No consolidates the band’s sound, and its group-centred approach to developing compositions through improvisation, into a statement of unusual power, concentration and feeling. Deviantics combines hyper beats and ambient textures with eastern-inspired melodies and rhythms to expand and derange the realm of downtown jazz/new music. It is primarily jazz in its instrumentation, rhythmic feel, and much of its harmonic language, but includes stylistic approaches drawn from free improv, contemporary classical, Balkan dance music, and drum ‘n’ bass. What’s impressive is the way the group creates unity from such an array of sources — moods and musical images with their own characteristic pull, sometimes brash, bristling, and intensely groove-oriented, sometimes haunted, seemingly suspended in their own time and space. The subtle interplay and transitions reward close attention, the textures and colors are often ravishing, and the solos and group improvs are both grounded and structurally intricate. From “Wheatsone”‘s deconstruction of a jam in 5/8 to the ambient balladry of “Tulip” and the modal cry and inspired drumming of “Valya”, this is another record which honors traditions while creating its own.
Born in Seattle in 1967, Chris Speed was raised on classical music, playing piano from age five, and adding clarinet at eleven. After being smitten by jazz and the tenor sax in high school, he switched gears to improvisation and continued his studies at the New England Conservatory. In Boston he co-formed the collective band Human Feel in 1987; they recorded several CDs including Speak to It (Songlines). There he also discovered the gypsy (Rom) music of Eastern Europe, and this eventually led to the creation of Pachora, a Balkan/near-eastern influenced band featuring Black, Sverrisson and Brad Shepik (Knitting Factory). In New York since 1992, he has played in bands led by Tim Berne, Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Dave Douglas, Eric Friedlander, and Steven Bernstein. Besides his new trio Iffy (Knitting Factory) with Jamie Saft and Ben Perowsky, year 2000 marks his work on the debut recordings of Jim Black, Alas No Axis (Winter & Winter) and Jamie Saft, Sovlanut (Tzadik), on the new Dave Douglas sextet Soul on Soul (RCA), Susie Ibarra’s Flower after Flower (Tzadik), the Satoko Fujii Orchestra’s Double Take (East Works), and Matt Moran’s Slavic Soul Party. He can also be heard on Songlines with Jerry Granelli & Badlands (Enter, a Dragon and Crowd Theory). In 1993 he received an NEA composition grant to create a piece for 12 musicians dedicated to Albert Ayler. His selected discography includes John Zorn’s Bar Kokhba (Tzadik), Berne’s Bloodcount Unwound (Screwgun), Douglas’s Sanctuary (Avant), Melford’s The Same River, Twice (Gramavision), Friedlander’s The Watchman (Tzadik), Dresser’s Banquet (Tzadik) and Eye’ll Be Seeing You (Knitting Factory), Krauss’s Good Kitty (Knitting Factory), Hilmar Jensson’s Dofinn (Jassis, Iceland, also featuring Sverrisson and Black), Mitchell Froom’s Dopamine (Atlantic), and Ron Sexsmith’s Other Songs (Interscope).
Cuong Vu was born in Vietnam to musical parents and emigrated to Seattle at age six. He is a graduate of the New England Conservatory where he studied with Joe Maneri. He co-led Saft/Vu (Ragged Jack, Avant), and leads the VU-TET (which features Speed, Black, Curtis Hasselbring and Stomu Takeishi), JACKhouse, and Scratcher (featuring Holly Palmer). His new record Bound (Omnitone) features Black, Saft and Stomu Takeishi. Other recordings include Dave Douglas’s Sanctuary, Bobby Previte’s Too Close to the Pole, Andy Laster’s Interpretations of Lessness (Songlines), and Orange Then Blue’s While You Were Out and Hold the Elevator.
Born in Reykjavik, Skuli Sverrisson graduated from Berklee College and has appeared on over 30 records with Icelandic artists, including his group Pax Vobis, and Mo Boma (formed with Carsten Tiedemann). Recently he has been collaborating and touring with Laurie Anderson in her mixed media piece Moby Dick and is the musical director for her new record. His solo record Sermonie (Extreme), features tape compositions ‘taking audio snapshots of the interior architecture of sound,’ joining electronics and extended techniques for the electric bass. He tours with Allan Holdsworth (Hard Hat Area, Restless), is a member of Pachora and Brad Shepik and the Commuters (Songlines), and performs improvs with Peter Scherer. Other CDs include a duo with Anthony Burr (Desist, Staalplaat), Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder’s No Boat (Songlines), and Full Circle’s Secret Stories.
Jim Black grew up in Seattle, moved to Boston in 1985 to attend Berklee, and has lived in Brooklyn since 1991. He has been touring/recording with Pachora, Bloodcount, Dave Douglas’s Tiny Bell Trio, Ellery Eskelin, and Uri Caine’s Mahler Project, and leads a quartet, Beat Table, featuring Sverrisson, DJ Olive, and Ted Reichmann. He can also be heard on CDs by Michael Formanek, Saft/Vu, Peter Epstein, Satoko Fujii, Ned Rothenberg, Ed Schuller, Carlos Bica, and Frank Moebus/Rudi Marshall (and on Songlines with Douglas, Eskelin, Ben Monder, Bleckmann/Monder, and Human Feel). His new band AlasNoAxis, with Speed, Sverrisson and Hilmar Jensson, is on Winter & Winter.
“…deep and sophisticated music…” — The Wire
“Deviantics is a heartfelt avant-garde recording of four very talented, creative musicians whose soul and musicianship is such that we care about where their musical flights take us. Sverrisson and Black show the ability to groove well with each other, while listening to the soundscape being painted by Speed and Vu. ‘Tulip,’ for example, is a haunting series of long notes and drawn out groaning melodies that float in space for awhile, before Black establishes his own beat using brushes. It all seems to fit together beautifully, which is the unique gift of a good free musician…[The Balkan] thread is most apparent on the song ‘East Europe Rundown. This song is a beautiful combination of Eastern scales and a gypsy beat that branches out into freer jazz…’Reconnoiter” starts of with a tight 9/4 groove under a unison sax/trumpet melody that brings to mind Bill Bruford’s music…If you enjoy avant-garde jazz or world music, you’ll love this CD.” — Blaine Fallis, Jazz.about.com
“This punch-up quartet, known somewhat as Yeah, No, showcases Speed’s virtuosity and that of his mates. They are all just about too good. They float and sting throughout Deviantics…Speed’s writing is strong and inventive and his leadership skills propel out front of the killer tandem of Black and Sverrisson. Cuong Vu is a singular voice on the scene, telling new trumpet stories as they come to him in improvisational know-how. Fiery as this disc is at times, it is a more lyrical and introspective attempt at jazz languages than the earlier, harder Yeah No record from Vancouver’s always interesting Songlines label. Recommended here for its collective brilliance, exploratory spirit and its sure-handed capture of the meaning of jazz for the lucky listeners of right now. — Spike Taylor, Exclaim!
“…superb…With the piano/guitar-less line-up, you’d think the sound would be reminiscent of the Ornette Coleman quartets of the 60s and early 70s, and that’s a fair assessment – superficially. But the Speed ensemble doesn’t merely mimic the past. Speed’s open-ended compositions span a variety of styles that spur the players to bring out their best for the ensemble and the tune. Whether tackling a Middle Eastern-flavored groove (‘Wheatstone’), ethereal free improvisation (‘Tulip’) or punchy, funk tinged Don Cherry-meets Herbie Hancock-at-Jimmy Guiffre’s-house jazz (‘Reconnoiter’), Speed & Co. can do it all…Black is a wonderfully versatile percussionist, laying down ‘free’ coloration and loping propulsion. Vu’s trumpet crackles with the twin fires of Don Cherry and Freddie Hubbard but sounding like himself.” — Mark Keresman, Waterfront Week
“…while PACHORA’s strongest suit is a command of traditional materials, Deviantics adopts a more liberal approach, drawing just as heavily from progressive jazz, experimental rock and numerous other styles. Vu often employs near and far-Eastern scales, but usually as a fleeting phrase in a series of convincing ideas. The same poignant restlessness fuels Black’s collage of breakbeats with traditional percussion. Speed plays more tenor saxophone than clarinet in this context, and when he does channel Coltrane (as on ‘Valya’), the effect is compelling. What these musicians have crafted is rapidly developing into an ouevre. Both of these recent releases showcase their wide range of influences, near-telepathic interplay, and two distinctive but overlapping identities.” — Nate Chinen, Philadelphia City Paper