Published in Jazz Improv, V. 4, No. 4 (6/2004)
Sue Terry, Pink Slimy Worm, Qi Note Records QN8726
Released 2003. Recorded August & September, 2002, Brooklyn, NY.
"Theme & Trajectory X"; "Red-haired kid"; "Fluorescent Camouflage"; "Waterwheel"; "The Troubadours"; "Desert Moon"; "Few Are Chosen Suite": "The Toothless Soothsayer", "Parable of the Vineyards", "Slow Journey"; "Theme & Trajectory Z"; "Lost Melody"; "Theme & Trajectory Y"; "PSW"; "Wedding Song"; "For Arden".
Personnel: Sue Terry, alto and soprano saxophones.
Review by Virginia A. Schaefer
Pink Slimy Worm is saxophonist Sue Terry’s first recording under her own name, but she’s been on the scene for twenty-plus years. Known for sensitive and technically accomplished playing and composition, Terry has performed and recorded with many musicians, including Hilton Ruiz, Dianne Reeves, and Fred Ho, as well as several symphony orchestras. As she shows on this disc, she’s also adept at solo performance. New York-based, Terry is currently co-leader of jazz group Terra Mars and music director for dance group BeauteeZ’n The Beat.
In her liner notes, Terry writes that when the saxophone was introduced in the mid-19th century, one “famous composer” called the instrument a “pink slimy worm”, perhaps referring to the pinkish metal and serpentine shape of the strange-sounding, reed-brass chimera. Terry seems to embrace the absurdity of the phrase and its association with the saxophone as an upstart instrument. She has composed and arranged everything on the disc, using the familiar jazz approach, melody-improvisation-melody. She draws on musical styles that include classical and world music, as well as several styles of jazz. She plays soprano on three tracks and alto on the rest, with a few electronic effects but no overdubbing.
"Theme & Trajectory X" is a trumpet-like rally to action, in Dorian mode with a theme of two stacked rising fourths. Her lively improvisation introduces themes and a new, major-mode melody. In the spoken-word "Red-haired kid", Terry recounts that when she was twelve, another kid informed her, “Girls don’t play the saxophone”, but she knew that her own playing proved that “obviously, that’s not true”. On "Fluorescent Camouflage", she launches her soprano sax into a spirited and soulful, finger-snapping blues, conveying feelings that might stem from the "Red-haired kid" incident – amusement, defiance, triumph. The composition’s paradoxical title suggests a need to stand out in order to fit in.
"Waterwheel", by contrast, is peaceful and reflective, its shifting implied harmonies and accents suggestive of French impressionism. Terry plays in a low register, her subtle vibrato enhancing the sustained tones. As on several other selections, her improvisation develops in intensity, becoming harder-edged and occasionally raspy. Rippling, chromatic patterns evoke the composition’s title. Restating the melody at the close, she adds rippling-water patterns to the ends of phrases, creating the effect of two players. "The Troubadours" is a medium-tempo, pentatonic melody, which at its mid-point moves a half-step higher. The implied harmonic structure and arching, dovetailed phrases make this a remarkable solo rendition of classic modal jazz. "Desert Moon" has a slow, sinuous, harmonic-minor melody. In her improvisation, Terry increases melodic tension with tritones, bent notes, and Middle Eastern-sounding melismatic ornamentation.
Midway through is a musical quest, the "Few Are Chosen Suite". She starts with soprano sax on "The Toothless Soothsayer", which uses a minor scale with a flatted second degree. Here, her bent notes suggest a non-Western, microtonal scale. A spooky, siren-like chorus effect enhances the mood. Played on alto, "Parable of the Vineyards" is a slow and somewhat elegiac minor melody that centers on a falling half-tone motif. She improvises with blue notes and melismatic ornamentation, going into the rich lower register and briefly introducing a jazzy, klezmer-like inner tune. "Slow Journey" is a bluesy melody that ends with a bebop rising sixth; her wailing sound is enhanced by a slight echo effect. Improvising, she invokes Charlie Parker, skillfully handling both parts of an impassioned call-and-response section.
"Theme & Trajectory Z" has the "Theme & Trajectory X" melody plus grace notes and a swing feel. On "Lost Melody", Terry plays soprano with a pure sound, like an oboe, enhanced by a slight echo. It’s a slow Dorian melody with implied polyphony, reminiscent of a Bach adagio. "Theme & Trajectory Y" is the third dimension of the "Theme & Trajectory" series; after stating the basic melody, she goes into a lively improvisation section. With "PSW" (initials of the disc’s title), Terry celebrates the alto sax with a winding octatonic melody that has irregular, shifting sets of phrases. In the improvisation, she centers on the tritone, applying chromatic runs and bluesy wailing. She ends with swirling repeated passages in a breathy tone and ghostly key clicks, recalling tumultuous wind.
For the final two pieces, Terry’s selections seem particularly personal. "Wedding Song" is a charming major-mode tune with 3/4 time and a regular form; except for a couple of blue notes, it could be an 18th-century classical dance. "For Arden" is a Dorian-mode, introspective ballad built on a short motif. The form resembles a rondo, as Terry frequently returns to the opening motif. The two phrases played up a half-step, in modal-jazz style, are expressive touches.