by Eugene Chadbourne
German trumpeter Thomas Heberer uses the name T.O.M. for this CD project, thereby hopefully avoiding being mistaken for literally dozens of performers in various genres who have attempted to make a similar name for themselves without the initials, as in Tom, Thomas, Tommy, and/or Tommie.
The title of Stella may bring to mind Marlon Brando in his torn T-shirt, but for a trumpeter of course any mention of this name may also be a link to Miles Davis' gestures by starlight. This survey of the T.O.M. project's only marginally related connections can be completed by mentioning the cover art, an out of focus color photo of the top portion of someone's forehead. Has Jandek started doing freelance album covers? In that no doubt unrelated tradition, not much information is provided on this CD cover.
Heberer created the ten compositions, a program that by completion has packed the disc to within three seconds of maxing out. It is assumed he created all the instrument sounds below his trumpet; otherwise he comes from the type of music scene where someone would have been credited. Soloing is one of his great talents; in settings such as the ICP Orchestra and the SSH trio he can be counted on to improvise clear statements, making use of a wide vocabulary, impressively developing ideas as they come up rather than nervously jumping forward. It is a good approach to pieces such as the title track, in which much of the accompaniment consists of a simple rhythm figure. The opening of Nuggets is different, however, only briefly toying with a bit of snazzy echo on trumpet and electronic snare drum before unfolding a curtain of electronic drums and chording.
While fans of Heberer's free jazz playing could conceivably flee the room at the sheerest hint of electronic drumming patterns, these pieces are places indeed worth visiting. On this CD Heberer opens a door of sorts, proving that soloists of his quality can find a fresh place within these sorts of contemporary pop grooves.