Free Sessions Vol. 1: Planets of Kei
NotTwo MW 964-2

João Camões, Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Jean-Marc Foussat

Autres Paysages

Clean Feed CF 456 CD

Often the butt of cruel jokes, especially by other string players – sample: What's another name for viola auditions? Scratch lottery – improvisers have found that the instrument is well suited to Free Music. That’s because the viola’s underdog status in the orchestral repertoire makes it relatively unencumbered by inflexible historical antecedents. Furthermore its protean textures, with echoes of violin, cello and guitar endow it with the ability for dexterous expression(s). These trio sessions feature two alto-fiddle players who made good use of the viola’s chameleon-like sound. Interestingly neither’s strategy resembles that of the other’s.

Serbian violist Szilárd Mezei is known for his compositions and large ensemble arrangements, yet he adds a distinctive voice to Planets of Kei, the first completely free session by Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon. Also featured are the bass clarinet and alto saxophone of Italian Achille Succi, who often works with Salamon. The landscapes displayed on Autres Paysages are no less free but treated divergently. Besides the music spread over three extended tracks compared to Planets of Kei’s dozen briefer ones, the trio consists of players whose raison d’être is improvisation, with determinedly diverse textures. Portuguese João Camões is the violist, while his French compatriots are Jean-Marc Foussat, who offers every manner of inflections with his electronic programming, with the horn parts coming from the trumpet and flugelhorn of Jean-Luc Cappozzo.

Salmon/Mezei/Succi kick into gear as soon as the CD begins with “Trio I” and continue the sonic blending in trio or duo form throughout. Characterized by a jitterbug-like staccato tones from the reedist, “Trio I” includes shuffling swells from the viola and resounding guitar picks that magnificently harmonize by the end. When Salmon is involved the duets bring out his folksy finger picking side, with the Mezei affiliations more concerned with double stopping and flying spiccato. Succi and Mezei in duo operate at higher pitches mixing tremolo string harmonies and contralto clarinet tones. Triangular balance is the key to the session however with strategies varying from track to track. “Trio VI”, for instance, is a concentrated exercise in barbed-wire-sharp twangs from Salmon, slashing split tones from Succi and buzzing string extensions from Mezei. Compressed and pressurized, a quizzical abstraction ends the narrative alongside a percussive undertow which is all reed snorts and string clunks. On the other hand extended silences characterize “Trio V” with the pauses marking the space between single reed puffs, guitar licks or pizzicato viola clip.

Building up in cohesion and skill, the penultimate “Trio VII” and concluding “Trio Suite” demonstrates this trio’s authority. The former is like a collection of building blocks consisting of free-flowing saxophone breaths, first doubled by spiccato viola slices and finally topped by strums guitar fills. Culmination of the program, “Trio Suite” mixes noise and nocturne, upping the volume via reed split tones and staccato string motions in the introduction to a polyphonic theme that gathers together each player’s improvisationary strands. Ending with a more active climax that includes watery guitar licks, Succi’s snarling variations and tremolo string slapping from Mezei, the middle section is slow and reflection, but perfectly suited to adumbrate the finale.

If Planets of Kei includes unexpected noises then Autres Paysages specializes in them, since Foussat’s electronic wizardry not only bathes the tracks in juddering wave forms and oscillated whooshes, but adds additional sampled timbres that could be sea gulls at one point and yapping dogs at another. Additionally “Berceuse pour Manuel” for instance finds the dissonance divided between Cappozzo’s graceful brass puffs and Foussat’s distant flanges with Camões’ strokes providing the ostinato that glues together the parts. Enlivened with brass tongue flutters and blurred pulsation from Foussat’s machinery, the harmonic interchange is completed via steadfast buzzing from the electronics and a flute-like whistle.

With Camões sometimes playing the mey, or Turkish double-reed aerophone and Cappozzo the harmonic flute, some airy tones that make their presence felt elsewhere on the disc could come from either, A break in “L'espace qui nous sépare” also includes those delicate puffs, although they don’t detract from this, the session’s most accomplished piece. Melodic, even when sawing strings, juddering signal processes and sharpened trumpet blasts threaten to disrupt the connections, the lead off track soars in part, especially when the trumpeter outputs graceful notes that keep their buoyancy even as other textures are deflated and thumping. The tune’s final sequence resolves this, as gravelly bites from the trumpeter push the others to play more quickly and convincingly, overcoming a menacing synthesizer riff to reconnect and harmonize the lines.

Both Mezei and Camões play the same beleaguered instrument (Q: What’s the difference between a violist and a dog? A: A dog is able to stop scratching). Yet these sessions refute its jaundiced reputation. Besides tipping the viola’s versatility, the CDs also show the diversity of sounds available when three instrumentalists set their mind to improvise without preconceptions.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Autres: 1. L'espace qui nous sépare 2. De tes yeux aux miens 3. Berceuse pour Manuel

Personnel: Autres: Jean-Luc Cappozzo (trumpet, flugelhorn, harmonic flute); João Camões (viola, mey) and Jean-Marc Foussat (electronics, other devices, voice)

Track Listing: Free: 1. Trio I 2. Duo Achille & Samo 3. Trio II 4. Duo Samo & Szilard 5. Trio III 6. Trio IV 7. Trio V 8. Duo Samo & Szilard II 9. Trio VI 10. Duo Achille & Szilard 11, Trio VII 12. Trio Suite.

Personnel: Achille Succi (bass clarinet, alto saxophone); Szilárd Mezei (viola) and Samo Salamon (acoustic guitar)