Magda Mayas/Jim Denley

Tempe Jetz
Relative Pitch Records RPR 1061

Jim Denley

Cut Air


Adroit applications in the ingenious uses of friction, breath and resonation, these CDs are as dissonant as any absolute music, but animated with their own rhythm and information. That’s because Australian reedist Jim Denley has burrowed far into these abstract-ish sounds for years in large ensembles and in collaborations with everyone from British hurdy-gurdy player Stevie Wishart to Québécois bassist Éric Normand.

Cut Air consists of two nearly 20 minute tracks where unaccompanied Denley not only uses the bass flute to expose airy themes with origami architecture, but also simultaneously vibrates the results with tongue and fingers for affiliated rhythmic capability. On Tempe Jetz he performs the same alchemy with both bass flute and alto saxophone, aided by German Magda Mayas, who usually plays piano in association with Aussie drummer Tony Buck and many others. Her instrument of choice here is described as “a barely functioning 1970s clavinet”. Its five octave span from 60-steel strings and electro-magnetic pickup allow her to dazzlingly create modification on guitar, double bass and keyboard textures the complement Denley’s output.

The flutist is generally alone-together on the first CD, since the swelling of flat-line breaths, altissimo squeezes and tongue slaps into a virtually infinite process is as frequently interrupted, accompanied or contrapuntally accosted by a mercurial obbligato that suggests percussion vibrations. This is most dramatically displayed on “For Celina Rokona”, named for the Solomon Islands musicians whose instrument is a combination of flute and percussion. Highly rhythmic, but eschewing simple beats, Denley concentrates on the flute’s deeper, darker regions, using a combination of tongue popping vibrations and metal slaps to assay a near-tandem line to with mosquito buzzing-like flutter tonguing and piping tones. Reaching the tune’s concluding minutes exposition turns multiphonic, with the echoes more varied at the same time the percussion reverberations move upfront. By the finale he’s toying with variations upon variations, the way John Coltrane would frequently fracture thematic improvisations into an entire sequence that could stand on its own. With no introductory melody, Denley instead melds scoops of blown air, twisted yelps and throat gurgles plus percussion-like pats into a straight-ahead straight line which expresses both rhythm and refinement.

The capabilities of Mayas’ instrument add anywhere from one to three extra voices to the one or two Denley creates on this four-track CD, weirdly named for the abandoned Sydney sports club in which it was recorded. Emerging with more atonal textures plus others which have more affiliations with instruments so-called authentic sounds, the atmospheric result of blending blows, yelps, strums and beats is exhibited best on the extended “Customs Declaration” and “Arrival”. The first begins with unaffiliated winds-and-waves-like textures that soon solidify into spetrofluctuation from the alto saxophone and echoing single-string figits from the clavinet. This flat-line regularity is frequently breached by smacks against unyielding material and accompanied by an oscillated drone. Near country-music twangs from Mayes and overblown reed buzzes toughen the harmonies until the underlying clavinet crackle and burbles give way to reed yelps and growls that roll over the distant echoes from the other instrument for an expected rapprochement.

More scope is given to the concentrated cranks and vibrations that arrive with “Arrival”. That way Denley’s strident reed bursts and Mayes’ electro-bolstered whorls and wiggles galvanize the interface in such a way that it begins to resemble a bottleneck guitar-R&B sax jam with equivalent percussion backing. But these conventional snares are soon turned aside as ghostly whoops from the saxophonist and sul tasto fiddle-like strokes from the keyboardist move the piece back to near atonality. Advancing, the exposition becomes intermittent, with thematic elaborations and the accompanying obbligato constantly shifting between the two. Finally, when corrosive folk guitar-like strums on Mayas’ part and needle-thin staccato breaths on Denley’s connect, discordance fades to stasis.

Architecturally constructed according to individualized sonic blueprints both these CDs show how expressive programs can be constructed while ignoring conventions. The choice between them is whether a solo or a duo appeals more.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Cut: 1. Cut Air 2. For Celina Rokona

Personnel: Cut: Jim Denley (prepared bass flute)

Track Listing: Tempe: 1. A Departure 2. Customs Declaration 3. In Transit 4. Arrival

Personnel: Tempe: Jim Denley (alto saxophone and bass flute) and Magda Mayas (clavinet)