A Madison saxophonist and his "double trio" celebrate the release of a new album. Info
Saxophonist and composer Anders Svanoe has spent more than 20 years actively contributing to the jazz community in his native Madison and beyond—with collaborators including Roscoe Mitchell, Jon Irabagon, and Madison Latin-jazz maestro Tony Castañeda—but over the past few years he's stepped into the spotlight with a series of albums that explore his deep affection for the baritone sax. On the 2016 album State Of The Baritone and 2017's State Of The Baritone Vol. 2, Svanoe made his case for the instrument's versatility on original pieces that ranged from abrasive free improv to modern classical, doing most of this in a trio format with percussionist Rodrigo Villanueva-Conroy and bassist John Christensen. (Pianist Wendy Ward contributed to several tracks on the first album.) The latest twist this burst of productivity is the "double trio" Svanoe formed for the 2018 album 747 Queen Of The Skies. This unusual sextet will celebrate the album's release with this show, part of a Sunday-afternoon jazz series Svanoe has been organizing at Arts + Literature Laboratory.
Svanoe explains in 747's liner notes that the album's nine original compositions draw on his childhood experiences flying to his ancestral homeland of Norway in the late 1970s and early '80s, when air travel had yet to descend into "rocket-bus" squalor and could leave a real nostalgic imprint on a kid. And like a jumbo jet outfitted with shag carpet and edible meals, the ensemble here is at once unwieldy and full of possibilities. Trumpeter Jim Doherty's melodic reinforcements and spiky interjections make an excellent foil for Svanoe's playing, which takes advantage of the baritone's rugged low end but is just as assertive and nimble as a tenor or alto sax. But the real fun here is in a doubled-up rhythm section—bassists Henry Boehm and Brad Townsend, and drummers Villanueva-Conroy and Michael Brenneis—that fills the tracks with kinetic interplay.
On the opening track, "Please Fasten Your Seatbelts," (all the track titles are aviation-themed, like "Bird Strike" and "Altimeter High") all six musicians unload at once in something of a dissonant free-for-all, but it's still the kind of free-for-all where all the players are seasoned improvisers and actually listening to each other. With that chaotic energy out of their systems, the players lock into the debonair groove of the title track, as Svanoe and Doherty double up on a melodic theme fit for a fast-paced spy flick. The double-trio can also summon moments of tenderness and grace, especially on "Tenerife Mourning," named after the deadliest plane crash in history. Where most of the tracks use the six-piece format to hefty and boisterous effect, this one finds each player exploring subtle shadings, evoking the complex and often tumultuous layers of grief and loss. "Spiral Staircase Glamour" foregrounds Brenneis and Villanueva-Conroy playing off each other in the record's most adventurous and abstract moment, and "Subsonic" lets Boehm and Townshend take the lead with a mix of scratchy bowed passages and taut rhythmic lines. —Scott Gordon