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Larry Stabbins - Monadic

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Artist: Larry Stabbins

Album: Monadic

Label: Emanem

Review date: Dec. 14, 2003

According to the philosophical musings of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), monads are the basic building blocks of matter, impenetrable and absolute in their autonomy. Why saxophonist Larry Stabbins chose the adjectival form of this construct as the title of his solo disc isn’t completely clear. Considering the layered accessibility of most of his improvisations, here the tag seems a bit strange. Perhaps he’s trying to reflect the combining of the constituent parts of breath, embouchure and fingerings. Yet these too are divisible. Middlesex professor Alan Durant addresses the question in the accompanying notes. No concrete conclusions are drawn. These are rightly left to the listener.

Thirteen gerunds serve as track titles. It’s a conceit repeated on another recent Emanem recording (see Nisus Duets). The first 12 arrive without an audience and move from eponymously structured “Breathing” through “Dancing.” Recorded in the dry acoustics of London’s Red Room, the intimacy of a man alone with his horns is palpable from the first tonal strains siphoned through tenor. “Playing,” the final entry, comes from a concert the same day and is the longest of the disc by a slight margin. Stabbins makes a point of keeping things kinetically paced. Even his most pointillistic creations contain lucidly sketched motion lines.

Stabbins’ chops are abundantly apparent, but his technical command defers quite frequently to a warm and enveloping emotionalism. Neither does he resort to empty histrionics or the easy skronk. Even the application of extended techniques holds true to an abiding sense of listener inclusiveness. It’s in this respect that he sidesteps the more sterile and austere aspects that sometimes attend such solitary reed recitals.

“Singing” carries the keening clarion voice of a choir caught in full song. “Thinking” ruminates at length on a scalar pattern that slides through registers like moistened thread through thimble. Detours into burr-toned trills and dusky melodicism arrive toward the track’s close. “Buzzing” presents one of the disc’s few foibles. It’s an exercise in pursed lip puttering that rarely finds purchase. The loose ballad remnants of “Loving” steer the set back on course by feeding the lissome appetites of Stabbins’ soprano. Here, the saxophonist sounds strangely akin to fellow straight horn savant Joe McPhee. On “Chirruping” slap-tongue meets a slippery palate resulting in a hiccupping stream of crenellated tones. The program is quite long at 75 minutes, but the assemblage of moods and permutations acts as an effective adhesive force on would-be errant ears.

Solo saxophone recordings are on a steady proliferating rise. The deserted playing field that greeted the release of Anthony Braxton’s For Alto is now teeming with contenders. New and reissued albums by Braxton (multiple), Dave Liebman, John Butcher, Evan Parker, Sonny Simmons and others all entered the marketplace in 2003. Stabbins, though part of this populous cadre of peers, manages to arrive at something distinctly his own. His instruments might be the same, but the atypicality of organized sounds he achieves most certainly is not.

By Derek Taylor

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