** 2021 Stock ** "Not to burden trombonist Steve Swell with titanic comparisons, but it is safe to say that he is a logical heir to the worldly, cutting-edge personship of Roswell Rudd. Swell studied under Rudd and also with masters Jimmy Knepper and Grachan Moncur III (like Rudd, an associate of Archie Shepp in the '60s). Swell possesses a hearty, rippling, vibrant, somewhat vocalized tone, one of the most distinctive around, and like Rudd, is strongly rooted in the past with an eye on the outermost limits. The Center Will Not Hold is a slightly more conventional Swell effort.
The instrumentation, however, veers off the beaten path-this is perhaps one of the rarest of birds, as this session features harmonica not employed in any sort of bluesy or rootsy manner. Ariel Bart plays in a way that texturally enriches the ensemble playing, the "saxophone" (this writer has heard the harmonica referred to as the "Mississippi saxophone") to Swell's trombone. Béla Bartók's "Mikrokosmos II" features a mini- free-for-all until Swell's torrid soloing shows one way through the piece with crystalline, shimmering piano from Robert Boston, drummer Andrew Cyrille crackling through the stratosphere and strings (violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm) searing their way across the skies.
"Laugh So You Don't Cry" has a droll, zigzagging, vaguely Thelonious Monk-like theme, a launching pad for invigorating soloing from Hwang and Bart, the latter who aims for steely, brass-like wails and gets them too. Swell makes with jolly burlesques and Boston goes to town with his inner Cecil Taylor but veers into rollicking, barrelhouse- ing Jaki Byard territory as well. The midtempo, undulating "Robo Call" has a nifty Monk-meets-Steve Reich intro, then trombone, harmonica and strings paint a yearning panorama. Swell roars like Rudd reborn here amid a tensely, tersely clattering background, Bart blowing soulfully or frenetically, the strings evoking the wah-wah effect on Miles Davis' horn heard in his early '70s records. In an era where far too many jazz albums can be summarized in seven words or less, Swell delivers two gems that lay down good times while keeping you guessing-fun, substantial and substantially fun."-Mark Keresman, NYC Jazz Record.