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Tape splicing and backup reels have been a part of the recording process since the 1950s, but recording without edits remains the artistic standard in jazz. A live in-the-studio recording such as No Filter — using difficult melodic and harmonic material to inspire heated improvisation — carries inherent risks into performance, the types of risks French saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh and New Zealander guitarist Greg Tuohey seem to thoroughly enjoy.
This is not to say that this long-acquainted duo, along with bassist Joe Martin and drummer Kush Abadey, stepped into New York’s Sear Sound studio unrehearsed. Coming off a fall tour, the quartet recorded 14 tunes live to analog two-track, selecting seven for No Filter. The results are also available on audiophile vinyl and as a high-resolution download.
Considering the complexity of the compositions, the real-time documentation of ensemble cohesion combined with individual player freedom could not have been easy. Yet, the quartet functions like a well-oiled machine. On the opening “Vicious,” a driving drum beat propels an ominous guitar-and-bass riff with Sabbagh’s lyrical saxophone floating over the top. Suddenly, bass and drums cut out, replaced by a jagged saxophone-and-guitar unison, then back to the repeated riff. Hearing Tuohey and Sabbagh play these angular, disjunct unisons so perfectly — a device incorporated into several compositions — gives credence to their technical command of their instruments.
“Chaos Reigns” opens peacefully but segues into a free section featuring three-way interplay among Sabbagh’s tenor, Abadey’s percussion and Martin’s bass. Then Tuohey’s aggressive guitar takes over. The head of the tune eventually rises out of improvisation as the song quickly winds down. Seven tracks, under seven minutes each, may leave listeners wanting more.
Format time limits notwithstanding, this quartet delivers the goods. From the sublime balladry of “No Road” and “Cotton” to the more straightahead groove and interplay of “Ghostly,” No Filter is a solid set — recorded, performed, packaged and delivered to the highest standards.— James Rozzi