Alex Zethson Ensemble

Some of Them were Never Unprepared
Thanatosis Production/Relative Pith Records THTS/RPR 1130

Jonas Kocher

Perspectives and Echoes

Bruit br9

Negotiating the often-perilous perimeter between improvisation and compositions are these two exemplary programs from Swedish and Swiss ensembles. Approaching the designs with unique interpretations and configurations, Swedish pianist/composer Alex Zethson propels a two-part program which organizes a 13-piece ensemble to function as one instrument. Swiss accordionist Jonas Kocher on the other hands, depends on the aleatoric, spatial and repetitive motifs of a seven-piece group to interpret his own “Perspectives and Echoes” and Luc Ferrari’s “Tautologos III”.

Negotiating the peaks and valleys of “Some of Them were Never Unprepared”, the output from Zethson ‘s mostly string-playing ensemble becomes more percussive and repetitive as the composition become more pressurized and undulating. Besides gong and shaker reverberations, col legno string stresses and idiophone sound currents constantly propel the first section so that as it speeds up it takes on a concentrated raga-like drone. As the sequences continue to swell from then on, repeated, low-pitched chords eventually open up enough for stretched sul tasto sweep from bowed strings and guitar plucks become more obvious. So too are drum ruffs and stopped piano keys. After the robust buzzes from a contact mike, cascading cello swells join with shaker and gong vibrations as melodic counterpoint. Crucially a crescendo is reached in the penultimate sequence when it appears that every instrument is being punched, slapped, hit or sounded simultaneously. Finally upper partials from the violin introduce a massed swaying rhythm that with string fillip relaxes into the satisfying finale.

Although shorter, the four-part interpretation of Kocher’s title composition offers a greater variety of sonic nuances. Throughout the idea strives to unite the more formalized buzzes of the strings, piano and electronic wave forms with the acoustic impulses of Stephen Menott’s trombone that include plunger tones and frog like flatulence, harpist Manon Pierrehumbert’s stretched glissandi and Christian Wolfarth’s thundering percussion. Only by “Part III” are Jacques Demierre’s icy singular keyboard plinks and decisive inner piano-string strumming able to help orient the piece past concentrated vibrations to ascending and descending individual motifs. Finally the piece confirms its unique definition as plunger trombone tones, comely harp strokes and drum rattles are outlined in front of torqued string glissandi.

Alluring in performance “Tautologos III” still depends on a simple idea: the different motifs are established and then recapitulated at greater or lesser lengths and loudness during the 29½-minute composition. Although Kocher’s accordion trebles ae more prominent, they’re just one part of the composition. Other sections judder to play up contrasts between precise orchestral-like timbres and freer ones that could come from a marching band playing cartoon background sounds. Including the accordionist’s sometime default to French-café-like squeezes, whining fiddle stretches from Estelle Beiner and cymbals slaps, drum paradiddles and tick-tock time-keeping from Wolfarth, the acoustic tones share space with snatches of sampled voices talking, yodeling and hiccupping plus shaking electronic oscillations. Once established that variants of the thematical material will be heard repeatedly, significance lies in how unexpected percussion explosions, singular violin plucks, accordion tremolos, plunger brass lines and truculent piano chording will alter the sequences before the theme is again heard. A coda of harp glissandi, sampled vocal yells and piano chording moves the exposition downwards to a satisfying conclusion.

While neither ensemble can be faulted for sympathetic performances, on examination it appears that the most notable tracks are those composed by the band leaders themselves.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Some: 1. Some of Them were Never Unprepared Part 1 2. Some of Them were Never Unprepared 2

Personnel: Some: Karin Ingves, Alex Zethson (pianos); Giannis Arapis, Anton Toorell, Kasper Agnas (guitars); Anna Lindal, Josefin Runsteen (violins); Leo Svensson, My Hellgren (cellos); Torbjörn Zetterberg, Elsa Bergman (bass); Andreas Hiroui Larsson (drums, gongs); Niclas Lindström (shaker)

Track Listing: Perspectives: 1. Perspectives and Echoes 2. Tautologos III

Personnel: Perspectives: Stephen Menott (trombone); Jacques Demierre (piano); Jonas Kocher (accordion); Estelle Beiner (violin); Manon Pierrehumbert (harp); Christian Wolfarth (percussion); Gaudenz Badrutt (live electronics)