Intermediate Obscurities I+IV
New Wave of Jazz NOW 0015

With the cover of this double CD accurately reflecting the musical canvas used, two variations of the TONUS ensemble decisively mine that grey area where improvisational animation meet microtonal ambience. Time stretching in such a way that rhythmic and melodic elements are still present as part of languorous group performance, the effect is like microscopically observing individual muscle exertion while simultaneously watching its performance as part of whole body movements.

Core of the band is Belgian guitarist Dirk Serries and British saxophonist Colin Webster, each of whom have experience in situations that often blend improv with noise and/or more formal expositions. On the first disc they’re joined by Belgians flutist Jan Daelman, pianist Martina Verhoeven, bassist Nils Vermeulen and British drummer George Hadow. On “IV” their partners are all London-based: baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts, bass clarinetist Tom Ward, violist Benedict Taylor and bassist Otto Willberg.

It may seem like only a small dislocation, but the presence of piano and drums on “I” creates a sonic perambulation that is subtly, but decidedly different than the performance on the second disc. Assembled outwards from brief piano key splashes which seem set in a similar manner to John Tilbury’s distinct chording on AMM programs, the unhurried exposition is expanded intermittently with pinpointed guitar plucks, resonating double bass thumps, thin and elevated peeps from the horns and brief scrapes or rebounds from the drummer. Pointillist without pressure, the rhythm-section propels the narrative like an airport terminal’s moving sidewalk, as Webster’s and Daelman’s vibrations suggest diversions. With timbral cross- pollination, motifs are stretched enough so that the architecture is discernible even as the textures intertwine into a near-mesmerizing outcome. Guitar string snaps and double bass string reverb keep steadying the narration even as a distinctive drum roll half way through suggests a faux climax. Containing that limited percussion outburst with piano pressure and double bass Arco sweeps the unbroken drone only makes room for yowls and splayed vibrations from the horns, Subsequently, the additional pressure is finally fragmented so that palimpsest-like glimpses of each musician`s contribution are revealed. With a drum roll, guitar and piano motifs, the finale reverts to resemble the introduction.

Moving the focus to warm guitar strokes on “IV”, the hypnotic interface remains beneath the exposition, with many of the pseudo electronic oscillations created by viola and double bass string vibrations, and equal pitches segmented by contrapuntal challenges from pointed saxophone blows. As the thickened reed output judders, Serries’ finger-style sprawls maintain the melody even as tones emanating from the other instruments become heavier and more barbed. At the mid-point a climatic crescendo of stacked and blended echoes finally predominate, until they’re superseded and directed back to the ambulatory narrative by flutter tonguing from Webster and Roberts. With the concentrated program translucent enough to display individual contributions like tongue-slapping baritone movements or shrill altissimo whistling that could come from either Webster’s reed-biting or Taylor’s pressurized strings, musicians’ the segments finally combine for a stoic ending, signaled by a stentorian double bass thump.

Whether what TONUS is doing is part of a New Wave of Jazz is subject to debate. But both variants of the group’s program are worth hearing.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. I^ Disc 2. 1. IV*

Personnel: Colin Webster (alto saxophone): Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone)*; Tom Ward (bass clarinet)*; Jan Daelman (flute)^; Martina Verhoeven (piano)^; Dirk Serries (acoustic guitar); Benedict Taylor (viola)*; Nils Vermeulen^ or Otto Willberg* (bass); George Hadow (drums)^