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Wally Shoup Trio - Fusillades & Lamentations

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Artist: Wally Shoup Trio

Album: Fusillades & Lamentations

Label: Leo

Review date: May. 26, 2003

North Spaghetti Western

At a performance earlier in the year by the Andrew Drury Group, I wondered why alto saxophonist Wally Shoup’s name was glaringly absent in online catalogs and on brick and mortar shelves. No prolific discography, no legends of overseas adventures, no socio-political extensions of his art that are better left under wrap. Only a local calling in Seattle, exemplified by an eager surge of murmurs and hushes as he stepped onto the stage. His playing was at once impulsive, yet conscious of the many aspects of the situation: the small, oblong perimeter of the venue, the overcompensating acoustics, the mixed audience of followers and first-timers, his bandmates' tinkling subtleties. In the course of an hour, Shoup demonstrated an ability to raise hairs and, in softer moments, to bring complete strangers to say to themselves, quietly, “Yes.”

A few months later, Shoup enjoyed his first release on a higher-profile free improv label, Leo Records. As was the case last January, he’s in good company on Fusillades & Lamentations – he's joined by Reuben Radding, an extraordinary bassist who, over the years, has walked a direct line from garage punk to free jazz and Sun Ra repertory, and Bob Rees, a young Seattle drummer whose unique style of trapping juxtaposes an American blend of rhythms and cadences with “little sounds” commonly attributed to European improvisation.

The last thing I wanted to hear from Fusillades & Lamentations was a trio of talented musicians settling into that mindless blanket of improvisation that comes off the shelves like so many plastic bottles of water – different label, same taste. The opening track, “The Sacrificial Lion,” did little to ease my fears. The opening sounds consist of Shoup blowing carefully crafted harmonics over Rees, fondling the bells of his cymbals. Radding comes in with the bow and I’m in a sort of sonic purgatory, but not for long. These are opening statements – getting the feet wet – that, quickly enough, turn into discourse and then stimulating music.

That pattern, thankfully, does not repeat itself in the remainder of the tracks. “Peloria” opens with a pre-determined head that calls on some level to Ornette Coleman’s phrasing and Wayne Shorter’s knack for contrasting colors, decorated by Rees' shimmers and flutters and Radding’s peculiar half-walks. But, along with the autistic “Lament,” “Peloria” is simply as original as anything I’ve heard by a group with such minimal instrumentation, which says a lot for the musicians’ vocabulary and sense of direction. Shoup is neither a noodler nor a sucker for overdrawn space. The gorgeously executed “Laying Low” draws a perfect balance among the instruments, which individually fill all the right gaps. On much of Fusillades and Lamentations, Shoup and company have made sublime music that benefits from maintaining a loose structure in an unassuming effort to say something.

By Alan Jones

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