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FAB - Transforming the Space

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Artist: FAB

Album: Transforming the Space

Label: CIMP

Review date: Nov. 21, 2003

FAB is the acronymic moniker for the power trio of bassist Joe Fonda, percussionist Barry Altschul, and violinist Billy Bang. Altschul has recently made a welcome return to recording of late (some years ago, he ended an apparent musical hiatus with some residencies at New York’s now-defunct Internet Café), and has waxed some fine sessions for CIMP. Bang has also been pretty active lately, and one of his finest recent sessions was Thirsty Ear’s Scrapbook, which put him in another hard-hitting trio context with William Parker and Hamid Drake. This recording captures a marvelously energized trio and it proves a great compliment to the Parker disc. But the Fonda/Altschul tandem is altogether different, with a kind of slippery pointillism that, for all the power it can muster, is quite different from the Parker/Drake machine.

The three of these guys have such an impressively broad history – each a leader/composer in his own right, Bang a distinguished co-founder of the String Trio of New York, and both Altschul and Fonda having played with the great Anthony Braxton – that they are able to touch on a wide number of musical bases without losing their focus or the uniqueness of their group’s sound.

The musicians prod each other, at times in a frenzy, but elsewhere in a serene manner. They embody virtues developed during an earlier period of American improvisation, when finely wrought compositions first grew from contexts of what had previously been complete freedom, and yet their playing still sounds vital.

This is probably evident most on the free swing of “For Papa Jo, Klook & Philly Too” (note the dedicatees), which generates – much like the rest of the disc – the comforts of vintage sessions like John Lindberg’s Give and Take (with George Lewis and Altschul) while also confirming faith in the future. And there’s even an Altschul classic (“Be Out S’cool”) from that period, which gets the recording off to a very vigorous start. They range through other territory too, as on the dark drone of “The Softness of Light” (where rich tones evolve into a jagged three-part drama, including some great dual arco amid Altschul’s hiss and patter), the earthy “Tales from Da Bronx” (a perfect, lightly funked Bang vehicle), and the circuitous, episodic “Song for my Mother”. There is serious synergy in this band and you can just hear their integrity and intensity. Additionally, there’s a lot of lyricism and humor (listen to the chatter that begins the closing free piece “Coligno Battata”). That should be enough to please any fan of improvised music.

By Jason Bivins

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