Rothenberg/Hein/Tammen

Bird Saw Buchla
Clang DL 061

Trio Sowari

Third Issue

Mikroton Records5056

Two trios mix electronic instruments with acoustic ones on these attractive discs, although the melding and instrumental identification appears to work better for one than the other. Already an established international entity is as advertised the third iteration of Trio Sowari, with Swiss tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, German percussionist Burkhard Beins and British software synthesizer Phil Durrant. An ad hoc, first-time grouping, Bird Saw Buchla joins the skills of American clarinetist David Rothenberg, German guitarist Nicola L. Hein and German-American Hans Tammen, who uses his textural guitar skills on the Buchla musical easel, a vintage analog synthesizer.

Third Issue’s four tracks demonstrate how easily Trio Sowari has evolved to functions as a standard unit, despite having none of the outwardly expected Jazz rhythm or melodic touches. Among the silences and buzzes of the program though, there’s space for brief whistles, tongue stops and pops from Denzler, rolling paradiddles and staccato slaps from Beins and a rumbling undertow of ring modulator resonation and oscillated warbles from Durrant. With each player’s output designed to be the structured parts of a single humming entity, a track like “Suspension” finds the saxophonist advancing with fog-horn-like cries and being met by death knell-like strokes from Beins until both are subsumed beneath signal-processed drones. Although memories of reed flutter tonguing and rushed and rolled metallic squeaks the emphasis is neither on instrumental virtuosity or distinctive technical prowess, but on how carefully each musical impulse can meld with the others. By the concluding “Levitation”, percussion and intermittent buzzes from the synthesizer remains, a flat-line interface regularizes squalling upsurges or downturns until the solidified mass dissolves.

Also a distinguished academic and philosopher with an overriding interest in bird song, the mellow trilling Rothenberg extracts from his clarinets distinguishes Bird Saw Buchla from Third Issue and advances another method for creatively joining individual musical parts. As well since the Buchla is old enough and partnered with a guitar the angled flanges and buzzes created by the two plugged-in players undulate intermittently in a contrapuntal fashion alongside the clarinetist’s flutter tonguing.

“Now in Sad Autumn” and “As I Take My Darkening Path …” which follow one another are probably the best demonstrations of how this strategy occurs. On the first granular synthesis and spluttering inputs are set up as blurry challenges to the clarinet’s coloratura lines as rubs and shuffles from guitar strings provide the backing. The result is that when Rothenberg turns to arabesques and fluttering trills the connection to electrified burbles and dazzling string shakes is as natural as if the reedist was fronting a string quartet. Hein’s most upfront playing on “As I Take My Darkening Path …” contrasts calculated guitar finger-picking with snores and snorts from Rothenberg’s bass clarinet. With Tammen sounding short-wave-radio-tuning-like warbles in contrast to guitar buzzes and flanges tremolo bass clarinet squeezes provide the underlying and connective rhythm.

Other instances of organ-like pulses ring modulator-like gongs and repetative percussive scrapes and rolls are worked into the jittery interface among the three. Still, Rothenberg’s pseudo bird calls and watery slurps ensure that this trio’s work is unlike the other one as well as being unique itself.

The 21st century has become the intermediate stage of accepting electronic and acoustic impulses as equal partners in sound creation. These two CDs demonstrate how the blend is moving ever closer.

_—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Third: 1. Gravitation 2. Suspension 3. Exploration 4. Levitation

Personnel: Third: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone); Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects) and Phil Durrant (modular, software synthesizers)

Track Listing: Bird: 1. Must Springtime Fade? 2. Then Cry All Birds and Fishes 3. Cold Pale Eyes Pour Tears 4. Now in Sad Autumn 5. As I Take My Darkening Path... 6. A Solitary Bird

Personnel: Bird: David Rothenberg (clarinet, bass clarinet, contralto clarinet, ipad); Nicola L. Hein (guitar, circular saw) and Hans Tammen (Buchla musical easel)