June 22, 2019
Umlaut Records 28+29/Såj Records 47+48
One of the originators of European Free Jazz in the 1960s, Mariestad-born Berlin-resident drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, 75, reconvenes with two young veterans of the scene, Swiss-born Paris-based tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, 56 and Swede-in-Berlin bassist Joel Grip, who is about a decade younger, for two CDs of unbridled improvisation. Denzler, who has explored the microtonal frontiers of Free Music with the Hubbub quintet and Grip, whose associates have ranged from Antonin Gerbal to Didier Lasserre solidly fuse into an ensemble with the drummer whose playing partners have range from the bombast of Peter Brötzmann to the minimalism of Andrea Neumann.
All of a piece the four extended-in-form-and-time improvisations are involved with interplay not bravado, with space for individual expression, even as the others’ playing advances. Still because of the strictures of amplification, Grip is less upfront than the others. That doesn’t mean that his instrument’s plucks, pick and pulses don’t play a major role in the proceedings. For instance vigorous string plops set up the concluding “Timeless” and descending low-pitch shading from the same source ends the track and the session. Along the way pumps and sul tasto buzzes from the bassist galvanize the sequence, which is also animated with alternating hip-hop and hand patterns plus unexpected rattling upsurges from Johansson. Denzler’s exposition on the other hand radiates from micro to macro with unhurried coloratura textures moving into the realm of tense near breathlessness, inflating to a collection of fractured splatters and high-pitched split tones, culminating in conversational variations by the end.
Perfection of this high-and-low art, ferocious-and-fragile interface gets the most profound exposure on “Timing”, an appropriate title. During that sequence, Denzler creates a palimpsest-like, multi-dimensional narrative out of slurring reed sweeps, peeps and repeats, descending to miniscule bites, before facing an obbligato of thin buzzes from Grip, Then half-way through the piece, the saxophonist reverses course with choruses of altissimo timbre-shredding, further inflamed by the onset of Johansson’s flurry of drum top pops and cymbal accents. Diaphragm vibratos in one unbroken breath affirm the improvisation’s conclusion as drummer and bassist create back-and-forty theme variations.
Other instances of timbral and rhythmic sophistication enliven these and the other tracks, with each confirming again the skill and connection of the three. Gripping sounds, this set is one more indication that age and nationality make little difference when creating a high quality program.
Track Listing: CD 1: 1. Time 2. Timing CD 2: 1. Out of Time 2. Timeless
Personnel: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone); Joel Grip (bass) and Sven-Åke Johansson (drums)