Carlo Actis Dato/Enzo Rocco Duo

Noise from the Neighbours
Setola di maiale SM3160

Lepage/Lussier et Le Quator Bozzini

Chants et Dances …with Strings

Tour de Bras TDB 900019 CD


7000 Eichen

JazzWerkstatt JW171

Olaf Rupp/Ulrike Brand


Creative Sources CS 368 CD

Christy Doran/Alfred Vogel


Boomslang LC 09496

Something in the Air: Unusual Guitar Pairings

By Ken Waxman

Although the keyboard may challenge it for top spot, the guitar may be the most popular musical instrument in the world. Think of any genre from pop to so-called classical and there’s a six-string player associated with it. Especially when electrified, the guitar’s adaptability gives it this status, and nowhere is this more evident than in improvised music. These five guitarists matched with musicians playing five different instruments demonstrate this.

Cheating a bit, Québécois guitarist René Lussier and clarinetist Robert Marcel LePage have the backing of Le Quator Bozzini on some selections of Chants et Dances …with Strings (Tour de Bras TDB 900019), but all the strings do is create backgrounds from which Lepage’s and Lussier’s sounds rise like the contours of a raised-relief map. Wedded to folk and blues, Lussier makes use of long-lined strumming or curt bottleneck-like phrasing to make his point on tracks such as “Comment faire de l’argent avec un clarinet” as LePage’s riposte varies from Morse Code-like bites to trills. With the guitarist as apt to output countrified mandolin-like twangs from his instrument or the clarinetist specialize in an unvarying flat-line solo, as on Le sextour hors positions, any strings-added romantic inferences are quickly swept aside by catgut flanges and buzzing reed vibrations. With Chants et Dances’ 13 tracks specific to its time and place, the tunes which most clearly highlight the duo’s individuality and societal concerns are those such as “Vers un capitalism à visage humain” which work string whacking and reed bites into a jazz-like call and response; or “Comment garder le feu sacré sans brûler son capital” where a near light-music introduction is subverted by multiphonic bedlam with the clarinet horking and snuffling like an elderly man with asthma and Lussier’s heightened string rubs could be created by sandpaper instead of fingers. The sonic narrative on track 10, whose 18-word title begins with “Comment remettre l’éthique en politique …” sums up the duo’s interaction most succulently, politically and meaningfully. While Lussier’s bottle-neck whines may upset the exposition, LePage’s moderato lines ensure the track is as buoyant as it’s discordant.

In a divergent relationship with a horn and the guitar are two Köln-based improvisers, trombonist Matthias Muche and guitarist Nicola L. Hein, whose five extended improvisations on 7000 Eichen (JazzWerkstatt JW171) are dedicated to German sculptor, installation and performance artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986). Only as programmatic as Chants et Dances, the duets here are more representational in title than application. However Beuys’ Fluxus-affiliated disdain for convention could have influenced them. Like sculpture that reveal antithetical aspects when viewed from different angles, Muche and Hein are more interested in what seemingly non-brass-like and non-string-like timbres of their instruments can produce than conventional tones. This is where the guitar’s adaptability is exhibited. Throughout, using thumb pops, hand taps and slurred fingering, Hein’s rhythmic accompaniment could be from percussion not a stringed instrument. At the same time, as on the introductory Stahlwille, he takes a shrill undulating solo with the crunch of Johnny Ramone and the tautness of Sonny Sharrock. As for Muche, like any auto racer, he’s unafraid of speed, buzzing out one set of arpeggiated notes after another, Not only does he bend grace notes with brassy adroitness, but on tracks such as “Zwitschern” he agilely digs deep into the instrument’s bottom range. Although his relay-race-like concepts range from staccato to slur, as if he’s manipulating two trombones is showcased best on “Dick Verumutt”, 7000 Eichen’s defining track is the last: “Künstlerhaus II”. The architectural plans for this “second artist’s house” gives the duo almost 15-minutes to cogitate. Over a backdrop of patterning from Hein as pervasive as the sound of a hamster’s wheel, Muche outputs crying, plunger and burbling tremors which intensify as the piece evolves. Reaching a climax when ringing flanges and strums from Hein match Muche’s emotional release in the track’s penultimate minutes, a detour into a grotesque variant on Taps leads to one perfect growly note which both output simultaneous as if reaching mutual euphoric satisfaction.

Euphoric is the main attribute you ascribe to Noise from the Neighbours (Setola di maiale SM3160), with the performance more concerned with fun than ferocity. Still, Italians, guitarist Enzo Rocco, and tenor and baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist Carlo Actis Dato, are sophisticated comedians, never letting guffaws get in the way of musical excellence. With their frenetic string chording, fluid reed vibrations and overblowing, plus frantic melodies, they could be court jesters, but like those harlequin-wearing clowns they also speak the truth. That’s why a series of tarantella-like tracks are followed by “Brocole” where bent plucks from Rocco and rugged honks from Dato add up to an Italian blues. This transition from silly to serious and back again permeates the album, reaching its zenith on the extended “Kumano”. As the saxophonist bellows a low-pitched continuum, the guitarist contorts his string technique to sound like a sitar or a banjo. Later adding a blues sensibility, the two are like halves of a walnut, keeping the rhythm going as Rocco scraps at his strings and Dato blows animated air every which way. The following “La Ronda Del Visconte” has a jolly, circular and instantly memorable melody. This convivial noise goes on for all dozen tracks, ending with “Rumbabamba” which confirm the duo’s smarts. It begins low-key and cool and ends with pointed rasgueado strums plus tongue slaps and guffaws from the reedist.

More pointed and stinging, is Shadowscores (Creative Sources CS 368 CD), since Berlin-based guitarist Olaf Rupp and cellist Ulrike Brand’s improvisations emphasize harsher interactions. Despite supposed limitations in tone, the two, like scientists who discover a new compound by ignoring convention, come up with a series of multi-sectional works whose performance minimizes electronic and acoustic property as well as the gap between foreground and background. Tellingly a track such as “Moorkolk”, where Brand sequences parts that could come from a multi cello sonata and Rupp scratches and scampers with withdrawn pressure, proves the duo’s capability to improvise at the slowest possible tempo. Defining tracks such as “Labeling Approach” and “Quellnoor” demonstrate the exact opposite. Soon after Brand’s Paganini-styled spiccato creates a vivid exposition on the first tune, Rupp’s knob twisting reveals a thumping ostinato that resembles cymbal crashes. Off-handed picking and string buzzing from the cellist is then lubricated by rubs and tugs by the guitarist leading to rugged below-the-bridge responses from Brand and eventually multiphonic flanges from Rupp. All this, plus maintaining the theme on top of the cellist’s shifting continuum. Any attempts at long-string romanticism on “Quellnoor” are quickly subverted by interjections from Rupp that move rocket-like. Moving forward and back like square dancers, the two continuously change places, with scrubs and plucks from Brand meeting string twangs or barks from Rupp. Often separated by protracted silences, Rupp sneaks in the odd rock riff and Brand adds some passages that would be elegant if not so high-pitched and strained. Chamber music with a difference these improvisations show what conventional instruments are capable of when utilized to their limits.

The story is similar with Kontaktchemie (Boomslang LC 09496), as Swiss guitarist Christy Doran and Austrian drummer Alfred Vogel demonstrate the versatility of common jazz or rock music configurations. Of course their set-up is less than traditional since Doran also uses an FX box, whose sound card input adds effects, while Vogel has a double drum set and an electronic Octopad with patches allowing for sound triggering, modulation and pitch blending. Throughout it appears as if the two spend time deciding whether their function is outputting the most hushed free music or the most grandiose jazz-rock. But while tracks are sometimes noisy, heavy metal hand bangers will be disappointed. Mostly the changes appear Janus-like on most tracks. One like “Fremdeinwirkung” begins with slippery moves up the guitar neck followed by drumming clanks and clatter which eventually turn into faster cascades joined by flying flanges and intimation of an electric bass line. The key track of this style is “Das Gelbe Vom Ei”, where a feeling of late-night summer silence is interrupted first by percussion clanks, detailed guitar theme exposition and finally a moderated drum back beat which makes the perfect verdant backing for string story telling. With spacey sounds available from the add-ons, which often take the form of organ-like patterning “Kontaktchemie” actually comes across as the most traditional of these discs, since psychedelica is now part of the tradition. The session even includes a throwback-to-the-sixties sonic jape on “Aus Zwei Wird Eins”, the final track. After four minutes of guitar rasps and drum shuffles accelerate to a freak-out climax, 10 minutes of silence follow, then suddenly an additional nine minutes of free form improvising becomes audible with buttery slides and drones from Doran, plus crackles and clips forged into a steady beat by Vogel. That track tile translates as “From Two Will Be One”. On evidence of the complementary creativity on all these discs, it could be applied to any session here.

-For The Whole Note June 2017