Knotty Artistry

Baritone sax great George Haslam is coming to town for three shows

Not often enough do high-level, avant-garde jazz musicians play gigs in Tucson. But thanks to the presenter Zeitgeist and, occasionally, the Tucson Jazz Society, we usually get just enough in a year's time to count them on two hands.

But the first week of May 2004 holds in store no less than three gigs of improvised music by a titan of the world's free-jazz scene--George Haslam.

A 65-year-old native of Lancashire, England, Haslam is known for his explosive playing on the baritone saxophone and tarogato. In case you're wondering, the tarogato is a Hungarian wind instrument similar to the soprano sax and the clarinet.

Haslam has played with such artists as Arturo Sandoval, Evan Parker, Borah Bergman, Derek Bailey, Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy, Joachim Kuhn, Tony Williams and Max Roach. Along with the free-jazz stalwarts Lol Coxhill, Elton Dean and Simon Picard, he is a member of the boundary-stretching British Saxophone Quartet.

His knotty artistry has taken him all over the world, notably to South America and Cuba, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, the Ukraine and the Far East. He adapts his style after each of his travels, incorporating some of what he has heard into the player he continues to become.

This week--lucky us--Haslam happens to be in Tucson, and he has arranged to play three performances. At each gig, Haslam will perform with Tucson musician (and occasional Weekly contributor) Glenn Weyant (The Running Dogma Collective) on tenor sax, flute, singing bowls and piano; and with Lou and Michael Golden (The Sun Ra Arkestra) on reeds, keyboards and percussion instruments.

Poetry readings, performance art and special guest appearances are promised at each site. During Sunday night's Club Congress gig, there will be a simultaneous screening of the classic horror film, Nosferatu.

Haslam, who now lives near Oxford, has released more than 30 recordings, many of them through his own Slam Records label. During its 15 years in existence, Slam Records has amassed a catalog of more than 80 CDs by such artists as Waldron, Lacy and Roach.

Critics over the years have compared Haslam's thick, agile sound to those of fellow baritone players Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan and Jimmy Guiffre. But for some fans, he has flown under the radar, as the baritone is not the most popular horn for soloing and seen as a novelty by some listeners.

Haslam also is not the most celebrated player in the world, probably because he doesn't swim in the shallow waters of the mainstream. Yet, last year the Japanese Encyclopaedia of Jazz ranked him as the 19th best baritone saxophone player of all time. According to Cadence magazine, "On baritone Haslam is a great awesome force. Why has George Haslam never gotten his due? He's one of the outstanding improvisers of our age."

Also in that magazine, critic Stephen A. Loewy recently wrote, "George Haslam fascinates because he nudges the limits, explores uncharted territories, plays creatively and conveys delight in doing so."

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