Bead records was one of a plethora of free improv labels that abounded during the 1970's and 1980's. Run by UK violinist Phillip Wachsmann, Bead was responsible for a number of high-water marks of the canon, the re-issued record before us being one of them. Larry Stabbins and Ray Ashbury may not be as well-known as their contemporaries, (Parker, Bailey, Oxley et al), but that is more from a lamentable lack of evidence than from any actual shortcomings in their playing. This is sadly their only set of recordings to be issued by anyone, yet it holds its own as a remarkable example of the art of musical improvising.
Stabbins playing on soprano and tenor saxes runs the gamut from lyricism to rude honk, with lots of overtone exploration and ear-catching multiphonics. During opener "Rough Cut", Ashbury sticks to a fairly small section of his kit (toms, high hats and bass drum with occasional well-placed cymbal crashes), while Stabbins does his best to imitate an elephant crossed with a clarinet. Echoes of New Orleans are smeared over with a wet hand and spattered with buzzy, loopy musings. A very short bit of melody announces the tight ending — it catches me by surprise every time.
The title piece is a bit more splintery and kitchen-sink-on-the-floor ambling, very tactile and pleasingly so. Maybe file this one under 'the quick-quick for beginners', though there's a beautiful stretch of squeak and flutter toward the end. At times Stabbins' saxes take on the timbre of a trumpet, making you forget the initial buzz of his reeds. This I find a very odd thing, like forgetting what you're hearing only seconds into its sounding. There's something about the sonics and the general inclination to explore displayed here that remind me very much of another sax/drums record, Wally Shoup and Ross Rabin's Scree Run Waltz.
If the recording quality seems a tad on the flat side, remember that these bits of history were recorded in 1976, and probably on a budget. Corbett VS. Dempsey is doing a fine job of reissuing lost gems from the past, many of which are now very hard to find and quite expensive if one does. I urge you to check out their other offerings.
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