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Splinters - Split the Difference

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Artist: Splinters

Album: Split the Difference

Label: Reel Recordings

Review date: Oct. 14, 2009


Splinters - "One In One Hundred (excerpt)" (Split the Difference)


For fans of a certain era of English jazz, Splinters represents a passing of comets, some in ascendance while others spiraled to earth. The group included Tubby Hayes (tenor sax, flute) and Phil Seamen (drums) were both nearing the end of lives foreshortened by the bad habits that befell enthusiastic embracers of the jazz life, but had been the best the UK’s modern jazz scene had to offer; Trevor Watts (alto saxophone) and John Stevens’ (drums) Spontaneous Music Ensemble was at the leading edge of the newly emergent free improvisation. Also present were trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, pianist Stan Tracey and bassist Jeff Clyne, who could swing both ways. For an American jazz analogy, it’s as if Lee Morgan had, in the last year of his life, sat in with Roscoe Mitchell.

However, just as a listener to Mitchell’ 1990s recordings for Delmark wouldn’t find that meeting so far-fetched, the bop and freedom crowds were not really so far apart. Stevens was once Seamen’s protégé, and Seamen, Hayes, and Tracey had shared the Ronnie Scott’s stage countless times in the 60s.

This group was conceived as a chance for these friends and colleagues from disparate musical factions to get together and just see what happened. Splinters never made a record; the two sets that comprise this CD were taken from a C-120 cassette that sat in Watts’ possession for 37 years before making it to disc. The resulting music falls somewhere between its makers’ aesthetic poles, being basically free but rooted in unambivalent and totally persuasive swing.

Seamen and Stevens launch “One In One Hundred,” the 47:07 long first track, with a polyrhythmic barrage not far removed from Elvin Jones’ on the first Village Vanguard Coltrane recordings. But since it’s two men, not one, playing the drums, the effect is not of superhuman achievement, but of sympathetic collaboration. Wheeler steps in with a stirring solo, then saxophones blur and blend behind him. It’s not as spacious, busy, or discontinuous as the SME could be, but it’s not sturdy bop, either. Instead it’s an inexorably flowing concord of ideas articulated by singular soloists in a relaxed frame of mind and born by an engine that can throttle way back or go flat, out but never loses forward momentum. This is what makes Split The Difference meaningful for a listener who has not stake in 40-year-old foreign jazz wars.

By Bill Meyer

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