Spencer Grady/Fermata Ark/Mark Wastell

Thus: Excerpts from a Smaller Work
Confront core 15

Gelber Flieder

Ölbaumgewächse

Creative Sources CS 626 CD

Working with electronic processing plus post-creation mixing and mastering is a skill now added to the trick bag of improvisers. With these considerations come new resolutions to emphasize the live feel over the programming or vice versa. These trios offer an opposite decision to the equation which makes each CD compelling.

Ölbaumgewächse or olive tree reproduces a brief live concert by Gelber Flieder or the Yellow lilac band. Despite the verdant references there’s nothing particularly rustic about the Paris performance except when the three harmonize vocally on a simple ditty at the top. Other than that, action involves extruding squeaks, slurs and synthesized sounds. Featured are German alto saxophoneist Luise Volkmann, who has worked with the likes of Eve Riser, Portuguese violist João Camões, who has recorded with Jean-Marc Foussat and French electronics/objects improviser Yves Arques of Ensemble Maât. Mostly off centre and bracketed with whooshing oscillations, the acoustic instruments maintain the exposition with long-lined reed trills and sliding fiddle sweeps that become more staccato as Volkmann’s strategy accelerates to vocalized smears. Eventually the violist introduce banjo-like pizzicato twanging and the saxophonist tongue slaps that join Arques’ cuckoo-clock-like echoes and door-stopper-like vibrations in double counterpoint, reaching a climax of stretched tones that criss-cross while intersecting. Finally as the programmed undertow becomes terser, sul ponticello string lines and whistling reed glissandi predominate until individual timbres unite and dissolve.

Thus: Excerpts from a Smaller Work on the other hand includes real 5-string banjo plucks played by Spencer Grady, along with intonation from ebow, violin bow and brass slide. Timbres created by Grady along with textures from Mark Wastell’s cello, bass and harmonium were mixed, arranged and processed along with field recording from Fermata Ark and then synthesized over six-months of post-production to produce this sometimes, wispy, sometimes droning and sometimes whirling piece of sound art. Ark aka Harry Smith is known as a composer and all three participants are part of London’s free music scene. Unlike Ölbaumgewächse however tremolo throbs, barely-there hisses and oscillating synthesis on the one extended track chiefly replace expected instrumental sounds. Almost out of ear shot at the beginning, the first sequence drone and whooshes to abstruse textures ultimately revealed as tremolo pulses. As the narrative is further synthesized ring modulator-like gongs accelerating to church-bell-like tolling are interspaced among the fragmented and reconstituted timbres. Successively Gregorian-chant-like vocal intimations buzzes to a terse mid-point motif where the accelerated tones seep across the sound field with rumbles about 100 times louder than the introduction. The last sequence is reassembled into church pipe-organ-like intonation that rolls along in a moderated fashion until extended to a final augmented drone.

Antithetical paths to concentrated sessions that feature sounds that can be menacing, comforting or puzzling are highlighted here. Challenging listening is needed, yet acceptance of each designated parameter is rewarded.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ölbaum: 1. Ölbaumgewächse

Personnel: Ölbaum: Luise Volkmann (alto saxophone); João Camões (viola) and Yves Arques (electronics and objects)

Track Listing: Thus: 1. Thus: Excerpts from a Smaller Work

Personnel: Thus: Spencer Grady (5-string banjo, ebow, violin bow, brass slide); Mark Wastell (cello, bass and harmonium) and Harry Smith [Fermata Ark] (composition, field recording, post-production, mixing and mastering)