September 16, 2018
Martina Verhoeven & Dirk Serries
Innocent as Virgin Wood
New Wave of Jazz NOWJ 014
Dirk Serries/Colin Webster
Raw Tonk Records RT 032
Capturing the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personalities of Dirk Serries’ guitar playing –
or perhaps riotous and restrained would be more fitting adjectives – these CDs show off the Belgian’s skill in both rambunctious Free Jazz and near-introverted microtontality. Confident in both idioms – and others – the thrust of Serries improvisations depends on his playing partner.
With the giveaway title, “Innocent as Virgin Wood”, is a five-part demonstration of stinging reduced parameters, with penetrating timbres scattered throughout from Serries’ acoustic guitar and the piano of fellow Belgian Martina Verhoeven, who has also played with the likes of Benedict Taylor. In stark contrast, Gargoyles is a flamboyant exploration of 17 rapid-fire creations between Serries’ juiced up electric guitar and the alto and baritone saxophone of London’s Colin Webster, who also a member of the Dead Neanderthals.
Serries’ background performing looping ambient music prepared him well for Innocent as Virgin Wood since the mostly hushed reductionist sounds rest on string stings and almost slack-key renditions with echoes of Derek Bailey-style rigidity. With its low frequency timbres and tone from the piano apportioned among elongated silences, the program is somewhat (Morton) Feldman-like; the microtones suggest some closure will be reached that never comes. With the sounds proceeding adagio, more attention can be given to Verhoeven’s unhurried ripostes and Serries’ string variations. Low frequency, the final track appears to vanish back into the sonic mist from where it came, with guitar repletion and piano echoes creating chamber music-like repetative cadenzas.
“Innocent as Virgin Wood 3” and “Innocent as Virgin Wood 4” provide the defining interactions however. Alternating ringing piano key clips, slurred chording for added resonance and prolonged silences, the indolent fragments and fills allude to total musical freedom without crossing into atonality.
Indolent is not an adjective to be applied to the Serries-Webster duets. If tracks on the other CD appeared somewhat passive and easygoing than the saxophone-guitar throw-downs seem designed to loudly and kinetically fill every musical space possible. With the 17 tracks mostly in the 1½ to two minute mark, the result is like classic guerilla warfare: hitting quickly and lethally, then on to the next skirmish.
The outlandish communication begins as early as the first and title track and continuous with no loss of stamina or commotion to the final one, a little more than 36 minutes on. “Gargoyles” matches squawking chalumeau gulps from the saxophonist with dial-twisting buzzes and echoes from the guitarist. And these staccato tongue slaps and puckers, complete with renal cries and altissimo jumps continue intermittently throughout, with the guitarist responding with sharp metallic stabs, up-and-down the neck flanges and string pulls resulting as much from hand pressure as finger adroitness. This mix of emotionalism and electricity is expressed at greatest length on “Cone”, where slurred fingering brings in additional string partials and the string stretches are backed by expanded huffing and puffing plus key percussion from Webster.
The same type of focused over-the-top playing illuminates the rest of the CD, with energetic crescendos appearing on “Throne” and “Cupola” Most Rock-oriented of the tracks, the former mixes Hendrix-styled guitar riffs and overloaded amp buzzing with elevated speaking-in-tongues glossolalia from the saxophonist; while the latter track is only slightly less invigorating with reed honks slowly dissolving into aviary peeps alongside string snaps from the guitarist.
Similar tone extensions and twinning from both players characterize the whole session defining it as intelligent as well as powerful. Specifically adding it to the results of the other duet disc provides the confirmation that Serries’ improvisations are adaptable in many circumstances and at many pitches and volumes.
Track Listing: Innocent: 1. Innocent as Virgin Wood 1 2. Innocent as Virgin Wood 2 3. Innocent as Virgin Wood 3 4. Innocent as Virgin Wood 4 5. Innocent as Virgin Wood 5
Personnel: Innocent: Martina Verhoeven (piano) and Dirk Serries (acoustic guitar)
Track Listing: Gargoyles: 1. Gargoyles 2. Soil 3. Pilasters 4. Dome 5. Gullet 6. Crypt 7. Goji 8. Chimera 9. Spout 10. Cone 11. Organ 12, Grotesque 13. Cross 14. Throne 15. Cupola 16. Boss 17. Form
Personnel: Gargoyles: Colin Webster (alto and baritone saxophones) and Dirk Serries (guitar)