|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Jacques Demierre
Almost Even Further
Leo Records CD LR 644
Urs Leimgruber/Roger Turner
The Pancake Tour
Relative Pitch RPR 1007
Maintaining an exceptional level of consistency playing improvised music demands empathic collaborators as well as chops and commitment. That’s why so many improvisers maintain long-standing relationships with a select group of fellow sound experimenters. Paradoxically, these same musicians often revel in the challenges of playing in new combinations.
Take Swiss soprano and tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber for instance. The Pancake Tour is a duo outing with an experienced associate: British drummer Roger Turner. Turner and Leimgruber are also present on Almost Even Further, except that on the latter disc the drummer and American cellist Okkyung Lee are new elements introduced to the 6ix group. They add their textures alongside those of other founding members, pianist Jacques Demierre and vocalist Dorothea Schurch from Switzerland and German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn, all of whom Leimgruber has worked with for at least the last decade.
To be honest it’s Turner, as the first percussionist to play with 6ix, who changes the band’s textures more so than Lee, who replaces another string player. At the same time as he demonstrates on both CDs, Turner is one of the most self-effacing of drummers, suggesting rhythms rather than bludgeoning them. As well, the tonal parameters of the sextet’s sound is still more dependent on the pianist’s key clips and plinks, the saxophonist’s extended reed techniques and Schurch’s vocal gymnastics than other sonic inferences. If anything, Lehn’s processed hums and grinding buzzes merely contribute to the session’s ambient tessitura. At points his contributions are virtually indistinguishable from the vaulting vibrations of Leimgruber’s horns or the quavers from Schurch’s singing saw [!]
Starting from “Almost Even Further”, Turner’s barely there bell-tree shakes, cymbal slaps and disconnected clanks underline the sextet’s performances. While cello string sweeps and the synthesizer’s distorted oscillations mewl sympathetically, Demierre’s pinpointed chording announces the exposition which is then studded with commentary from Schurch, Leimgruber and Lehn. The singer’s verbalization encompasses raucous quacks, stilted whispers and erotic breaths, while Leimgruber’s circular breathing contains agitated flutter-tonguing, continuous trills and a continuous air flow. When Lehn’s grinding delays add oblique buzzes and static vibrations so that the blend becomes nearly opaque, it’s Turner’s splintering smacks which convey the piece to a satisfying conclusion.
Lee is most assertive on “Faintly White” when her warm recital-ready tones swell to staccato lines, providing an assertive contrast to a narrative consisting of flat-line saxophone hums and peeps, synthesized vibrations from Lehn and complementary plinks from the keyboard. Following her lead, bass drum resonation plus breathy, crone-like vocalese become more aggressive, energizing an almost somnolent interface. By the final “Gorse Blossom” the undifferentiated electro-vibrations, folksy whispering and reed trills are separated and pushed aside for staccatissimo tonguing from Leimgruber.
Four months later, moving from Zürich to Köln, Leimgruber is more assertive with only Turner’s percussion strokes to react against. While some of the textures are as abstract and abrasive as those played with 6ix, a certain traditional connection exists as well. During the title tune, Leimgruber lets loose with a gush of Steve Lacy-resembling nasal pitches, while on “The Blue Bridges” Turner isolates a series of sandpaper-like strokes from his brushes that could have come from Philly Joe Jones.
Strangely enough the Hard Bop percussion suggestions and later New Thing knitting-needle-like thrusts from Turner don’t produce an equivalent retro response from the saxophonist. Instead while the percussionist deals with rubato time, Leimgruber’s altissimo sounds replicate those of a child’s plastic squeak toy. Then as Turner turns to wooden reverberating clumping and abrading cymbals on drum tops, the saxman stretches his response by obsessively altering and reconstituting every tone that comes from his reed. In contrast, the nuanced reed bites and vibrating split tones which Leimgruber brings to “Miss H’s Back Room” are coolly underlined with broken octave rim shots, plops and drags on Turner’s part.
“Middle Walk”, The Pancake Tour’s penultimate track, is the duo’s showpiece at nearly 23 minutes. An edifice of tone shading, it features Leimgruber delineating a collection of carefully spun out reed bites after he has explored every timbre emanating from his horns, further constricting the pitches with in-and-out respiration, flat-line expositions and revealing note extensions. Turner’s decorous and intermittent response incorporates nerve beats, weedy strokes and rim shots. Eventually as the percussionist moves to darbuka-like raps and gong-like quivers, Leimgruber spins out in-depth, stop-and-start reed smears for an ending that’s lean yet lyrical.
Among new or older associates or on their own, Leimgruber and Turner prove they rarely lack stratagems or sensitivity to create first-class music.
Track Listing: Pancake: 1. The Pancake 2. Art Jungle 3. Miss H’s Back Room 4. The Blue Bridges 5. At The Church Path 6. Middle Walk 7. The Walking Bar
Personnel: Pancake: Urs Leimgruber (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Roger Turner (snare drum, tom tom, cymbals, hi-hat, f-blade, chain and comb)
Track Listing: Almost: 1. Almost Even Further 2. As Now 3. Faintly White 4. Gorse Blossom
Personnel: Almost: Urs Leimgruber (tenor and soprano saxophones); Jacques Demierre (piano); Okkyung Lee (cello); Thomas Lehn (analogue synthesizer); Roger Turner (percussion) and Dorothea Schurch (voice and singing saw)
March 26, 2013
Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips
Jazz Werkstatt JW 125
Everybody Else But Me
Foghorn Records FOG CD 015
Now 78, bassist Barre Phillips is one of those Americans who transferred the investigational skills he intuited playing with the likes of reedists Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre to Europe in the late 1960s. Like most Jazzmen, he was looking for steady work, but since that time he has helped create a distinctive European improv aesthetic. Based in southern France for the past 40 years, Phillips has worked with nearly every major European musical innovator from saxophonist Evan Parker to fellow bassist Joëlle Léandre.
The polyglot line-up of these releases demonstrates Phillips’ on-going creativity while interacting with musicians of different backgrounds. Although both CDs feature a saxophonist and pianist along with Phillips, each is rewarding in its own fashion. Closer to a regular Free Jazz session, Everybody Else But Me benefits from the powerful presence of Oxford-based polymath reedist Tony Bevan, who is equally proficient on soprano, tenor and bass saxophones. Pianist is Matthew Bourne, some 40 years Phillips’ junior; a Yorkshire-based keyboardist who has played with everyone from guitarist Franck Vigroux to percussionist
Andrea Centazzo. Drumming duties are handled by Aussie-in-Berlin Tony Buck, best-known for his membership in The Necks. Free Music rather than Free Jazz, Montreuil is a live Paris-recorded session featuring the bassist’s long-standing cooperative trio with two Swiss musicians: saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and pianist Jacques Demierre. Both men have long experience playing notated and other musics, and also work together in the band 6.
Buck’s polyrhythmic strategy is also what differentiates the quartet session from the trio CD. But almost from the first, when Phillip’s stentorian thumps join internal string strums from the pianist and down-turning tonguing from Bevan, it’s clear that this is no disc for the faint-hearted or fastidious. By the second track, “The Harrison Ford Chord”, intensity is apparent as Bevan’s soprano sax playing takes on lyricon-like qualities, with the resulting trills meeting up with buzzing double bass strokes while Buck rattles bells and other little instruments and Bourne advances low-frequency cushioning tones. Eventually as the pianist’s high-pitched key glisses and clips harden, the saxophonist immerses himself in circular-breathed, nearly endless timbral variations which narrow the exposition without constricting it, make split-second reference to other tunes, and finally restate the theme.
Using his bass sax, Bevan builds “The Tailor’s Pike” out of contrasting dynamics, as his buzzing glissandi soon divide into shaking and irregularly vibrated tongue slurs, while the other players stay in a moderato groove, defined by the bassist’s string rubs and the pianist’s intervallic, low-frequency cadenzas. Managing to stay true to his original experimental impulse Bevan wraps up with scads of tart-tongued multiphonics. Elsewhere though, in a sudden volte-face, his balladic delicacy, in tandem with Bourne’s comping brings to mind Gerry Mulligan’s work with Jimmy Rowles. Furthermore, despite its faux Film Noir title, “Farewell My Lovelies” is more of the same, with Bevan, now on tenor saxophone, appending folk-ballad references to diaphragm-pushed glissandi he’s outputting at three times the tempo of the others, while Bourne contributes tremolo runs and Buck jittery brush work.
By and large though, the almost 14½ minute title track may be the disc’s most defining moment. With each player given space to sonically expand, the exposition includes non-confrontational and clean cymbal and snare pushes from Buck; moderated harmonies from Bourne and first scrubbed, than plucked, double bass lines from Phillips. Lining up with the bassist’s thumping rhythm, Bevan spews out some Gene Ammons-like slurs, which fit the narrative perfectly, despite the more romantic concept the other three are advancing. More frenetic in its final section “Everybody Else But Me” wraps up with the bassist’s spiccato angling, the pianist’s tremolo runs plus harder smacks on the cymbals and snares, while Bevan’s rough and agitated altissimo split tones turn to frenzied reed bites and squealing obbligatos.
Even more proficient in freneticism than Bevan, Leimgruber’s improvisations on Montreuil four selections are in the main more contained and compliant. It may be that the absence of a drummer discourages excess, but it’s also that this trio isn’t aiming for unbridled Energy Music.
For instance the saxophonist’s entrance on “Further Nearness” is all upper-register, soprano saxophone squeaks and trills, the better to blend with the bassist’s’ bottleneck guitar-like arpeggios and sweeping staccato lines from the pianist. Only when Demierre turns to double-gaited pumps, soundboard echoes and wound, internal string plucking do harder snorts and reed bites come from Leimgruber. Moving to his horn’s upper register, Leimgruber’s aviary ghost notes brush against swaying and strumming double-bass lines. A conclusive variant finds the saxman displaying altissimo squeaks, reed sucking, nasal vibrations and half-swallowed timbres, the better to join with Demierre’s rubs and scrapes on the piano strings plus Phillips’ staccato sawing.
Leimgruber is more outgoing in his tenor playing, although he has been known to mute his bell against his trouser leg. Stuttering reed bites and a stuttering squeals spread out to a sour vibrato during “Northrope”, while the pianist caresses the keys with both hands while producing pedal point glissandi. For his part the bassist is involved with higher-pitched, spiccato textures plus rapping on the wood, which as the narrative extends, hardens to define the rhythm. A descriptive contrapuntal sequence finds the saxophonist turning to shriller, more atonal squeals, delineating his sounds from those of Demierre, whose stentorian chording becomes denser and thickens to such an extent that he’s soon hitting the keys with jackhammer intensity.
It’s a credit to the three that following the cramped cascades that characterize the former track, they can also showcase isolated timbres on “Mantrappe”. Leimgruber’s soprano line judders with kaval-like cross-blown patterns, Demierre’s sequence encompasses string plucks and stops, while Phillips’ sul ponticello bass line quivers. Building up to a contrapuntal collection of wood smacks from both bassist and pianist, the narrative is helped along by guttural tenor saxophone groans. A cacophonous middle section of reed glossolalia, bass string pumps and keyboard clips wedges more sonic timbres into the lines that could be imagined, gradually gives was to a withdrawing finale where the bassist`s buzzing ostinato underlines Leimgruber’s puffing spetrofluctuation and Demierre’s intermittent key clips.
As he heads into his seventh decade as a professional musician, Phillips can look back on contributions to many memorable sessions. These two, almost completely dissimilar exercises in advanced improvising show, that with the right partners, his high-calibre music-making continues unabated.
Track Listing: Everybody: 1. A Prolegomena 2. The Harrison Ford Chord 3. The Tailor’s Pike 4. Empty Hall Blues 5. It Never Entered 6. Everybody Else But Me 7. Farewell My Lovelies
Personnel: Everybody: Tony Bevan (soprano, tenor and bass saxophones); Matthew Bourne (piano); Barre Phillips (bass) and Tony Buck (drums)
Track Listing: Montreuil: 1. Further Nearness 2. Northrope 3. Welchfingar 4. Mantrappe
Personnel: Montreuil: Urs Leimgruber (soprano and tenor saxophones); Jacques Demierre (piano) and Barre Phillips (bass)
September 26, 2012
ButtercupMetalPolish &Jacques Demierre
Brain & Balls BBQ
Creative Sources CS 176 CD
Proving that a well-seasoned pianist can more than hold his own with two bombastic percussionists is Swiss keyboardist Jacques Demierre.
With an aggressive and percussive attack that can overshadow McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor’s when necessary, plus minimalist single-note accents worthy of Count Basie or Ahmad Jamal, the Geneva native is able to parry anything almost literally thrown at him by Englishman Nicolas Field and fellow Swiss Alexandre Babel who perform as ButtercupMetalPolish, and lobby a few challenges their way as well. Throughout the seven Tokyo-recorded tracks, the three combine textures to easily illustrate the CD title.
Members of the N-collective, Babel and Field specialize in galvanized rhythms, working all over Europe with everyone from Art Rockers to Electronicists. Demierre’s art is more subtle. Moving among Jazz, Improv, notated Music, sound installations, and composing for theatre and dance, the pianist has partnered with musicians as different as laptoppist D’incise, bassist Barry Guy and saxophonist Urs Leimgruber. Throughout the tracks when the percussionist threatens to head into unrelenting Heavy Metal excess, Demierre’s strategy is as often to downshift to microtonal exploration than match them timbre for timbre.
Consider the stentorian interlude with the surrealistic title of “How to Chose Plus Size Dresses that Flatter (in a Mushroom)”. While Field and Babel use quadrupled strokes with cross and opposite sticking to whack cymbals and slam polyrhythmic blasts made up of rebounds, ruffs and flams – at one point almost evoking “Wipe Out” – the pianist’s assertive glissandi sparkling with kinetic asides, responds in kind. With the tripartite fantasia evolving at staccatissimo speed, Demierre’s tremolo syncopation weaves spherically around the drummers with such power that soon the two diminish their clamor to intermittent bass drum strokes from one and what could be marbles rolling on a drum top from the other.
Squeaks on the external wood and sostenuto pedal depression that echo in chord extensions, enliven other pieces such as “He’s Likable Guts” and “L’empire du Nez”. Often the resulting piano textures are used as dynamic counterpoint to the hollow wood strokes, bell-ringing and darbuka-like resounds from the percussionists. Some feature guitar-like plucked internal piano strings, others open up enough to showcase legato intonation with each key stroke sustained to its most lyrical.
“Vulcan Nerve Pinch”, an extended showcase, practically replicates the total session in miniature. Moving from nearly inaudible squeaks and pops from all concerned, razored friction is soon evident as Demierre stops, squeezes and excites the internal strings with what could be a metal comb or a knife blade. Simultaneously he extends the piano action, so that the capotes, agraffe and dampers quiver percussively. Contrapuntally the drummers abstractly and methodically shake, rub and tickle their equipment before reaching a climax of tremolo and fortissimo clatters, quivers and slides that appear to bring into play all percussion implements on hand. High frequency kineticism from the keyboard defines the final variant with the piece ending with decisive single key clink.
Feast on this Brain & Balls BBQ for the fired-up interaction among the three participants. Yet be aware that there’s so delicacy in the sonic sauce as well, courtesy of chef Demierre.
Track Listing: 1. Whose Arms on Ma’am? 2. Lettre du Governeur 3. Vulcan Nerve Pinch 4. How to Chose Plus Size Dresses that Flatter (in a Mushroom) 5. He’s Likable Guts 6.The Croquet Consortium 7. L’empire du Nez
Personnel: Jacques Demierre (piano) and Nicolas Field and Alexandre Babel (drums and percussion)
August 16, 2011
Insubordinations insubdr 05
The Middle Distance
Another Timbre at24
Not your parents’ piano duos, these prime slabs of first-class improv should banish any memories of the achievements of Albert Ammons & Pete Johnson, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington or even Jaki Byard & Howard Riley. Moving one step beyond the Jazz and Free Jazz of these earlier keyboard meetings, both British pianists Chris Burn and Philip Thomas on The Middle Distance and the Swiss-French recital featuring Jacques Demierre and Johann Bourquenez utilize so many extended techniques and unique string-and-key variants in their joint narratives that at times the pure piano-ness of the instrument almost vanishes into abstraction. Additionally the polyphonic textures supplied by bassist Simon H. Fell on The Middle Distance, and from drummer Cyril Bondi and electronic treatment from D’incise on Piano(s), become as much part of the interface with the pianos as they exist on their own.
Appropriately reflecting the parenthetical title of Piano(s), that CD’s two most evocative tracks, “Tornade” and “Sous l’écorce”, demonstrate how the deconstructed interface Geneva-based D’incise and Bondi have developed since 2004 alters when merged with the strokes and slides of the two pianists. Demierre on his own is their foil on the three remaining tracks. More to the point, it’s a tribute to Besançon, France-born Bourquenez, who is approximately two decades younger than Demierre, that the wide-ranging and multiphonic interface with the others doesn’t suffer – or honestly sound that much different – when he’s the only keyboardist featured. And Demierre is a tough act to follow since the Swiss stylist is as comfortable working in notated music as improvisation; and creating soundscapes and installation as he is adding his voice to other sound experimenters such as saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and clarinetist/vocalist Isabelle Duthoit.
More restrained, yet also enlivened by the stops, slaps and clinks from Philip Thomas’ prepared piano, the five instant compositions on The Middle Distance also draw on the participants’ experience in notated and improvised music. Bassist Simon Fell is equally at home at the head of large orchestral-oriented ensembles as playing in Free Jazz combos with drummer Paul Hession. Pianist Chris Burn also deals with compositions and free forms, although he’s probably best-known for the many ensembles in which he and saxophonist John Butcher have been involved. The youthful – under 40 at least – UK equivalent to Bourquenez, is Sheffield-based Thomas, a senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, who is involved with the so-called classical experimental ensemble Apartment House as well as improvised sounds with saxophonist/bassoonist Mick Beck.
On this CD Fell is as much a musical collaborator as the two pianists – especially at those junctures where his pulsated pops, reverberating thumps and sul ponticello slices appear to mirror – or is it vice versa – the taut rubber-band like thwacks and knife-plucking-like scrapes from Thomas’ instrument. As those two vie to destabilize the sound field with angular pacing, Burn does his part with rubato patterns and voicing which emphasize the piano’s accepted versatility. At points he stomps out thick rumbles with the pedals; at others exposes swift kinetic runs from the keyboard; and at other junctures posits full-fledged arpeggios.
Should Fell advance the polyphonic themes with triple-stopping or scrubbed bow bouncing; or Thomas slap the objects resting on the prepared strings to create high-pitched harpsichord-like reverb or node extensions; Burn has an appropriate response. Rumbling low notes at one end of the keyboard, or simple clamorous textures from the other add a staccato urgency to simplistic “Chop Sticks”-like clinks. Overall, his sequences flow sympathetically and nestle harmonically among the others’ physical gestures.
The same creative connectivity is showcased on Piano(s). As a matter-of-fact when the first track runs into the second or the penultimate joins the final one, it’s impossible to determine that one piano has left the narrative. Perhaps the only clues arrive during those rare moments when sequences of high-classical, fantasia-like note cascades result from the intersection of 166 keys.
Other than that, the staccato portamento runs or doubled connective glissandi could come from either pianist – or both. While piano fireworks are on show, Bondi rolls, ruffs and pops different parts of his kit or accents the melodies with struts and slams. Plus the occasional wave-form flutter from D’incise makes its presence felt. Overall the sul tasto string sawing, strummed chords and understated key tinkles make the five tracks speed by, with the entire session blending into artful sound layering.
More than piano duos, these CDs are united in offering notable group creations.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Piano(s): 1. Tornade 2. Chants evades 3. Et puis partir 4. Presque mourir 5. Sous l’écorce
Personnel: Piano(s): Jacques Demierre, Johann Bourquenez* (piano) Cyril Bondi (drums and percussion) and D’incise (laptop and objects)
Track Listing: Middle: 1. Looking ahead, seeing nothing 2. Not with the fire in me now 3. All moved 4. Never knew such silence 5. Looking back, remembering little
Personnel: Middle: Chris Burn (piano); Philip Thomas (prepared piano) and Simon H Fell (bass)
July 23, 2010
Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips
Jazzwerkstatt JW 074
Near perfect elaboration of a committed improvisational trio’s art, this Swiss-American group has been involved in furthering extrasensory mutual creation for more than a decade. Now seemingly able to predict and instantaneously react to even split-second sound dislocation, the trio has constructed a totality where the final note is as crucial as the first and where every one is woven into the overall fabric.
Considering the veteran trio’s background this practically supernatural connection is no surprise. During his 40 years in Europe for instance, American bassist Barre Phillips has played with everyone from saxophonist Evan Parker to pianist Paul Bley. Tenor and soprano saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has worked with bassist Joëlle Léandre, synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and many others. His Swiss countryman, pianist Jacques Demierre, is equally proficient in improvised and notated music, having recorded with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and in a trio with bassist Barry Guy, whose London Jazz Composers Orchestra also counts Phillips as a member.
Despite the CD’s supposed division into seven tracks, changes in strategy for these instant compositions merely involve one or another trio member pouring more textures into the mix. For instance on “Eatlib” Leimgruber’s polyphonic timbres quicken from whirrs to diaphragm-vibrated squeals as Phillips moves from strums to percussive spiccato. Initially adding singular plinks and note clusters, Demierre pedal pumps and thumps on the keys when the saxophonist’s extensive circular breathing turns to splutters and chips and the bassist scrubs his instrument’s wood as well as the strings for contrasting dynamics.
Or consider the title tune, which ends with high-frequency piano key spanks plus air flutters from the saxophonist, after commencing with tongue pops and a swaying double bass line. Throughout peeping reed vibrations evolve parallel to cascading note clusters from Demierre and col legno pumps and sweeps from the bassist. Reaching a dense climax, the piece positions Phillips’ shrill whistling and strident slices with tremolo glissandi from the pianist, and the saxist’s equally taut reed squeals. Leimgruber’s adoption of circular breathing accompanied by high-frequency passing tones from Demierre is another strategy.
Although no less or more memorable than what precedes it, the trio would appear to be marshalling its inventions for “Ilbeat”, the final track, since at nearly 18 minutes it’s at least one-half to one-third lengthier than any other. A three-part exercise in broken octave concordance, it unites inchoate fragments into a vibrant whole. Initially aleatoric split tones and strained continuous trills from Leimgruber abut sparkling arpeggiated strums from Phillips and occasional slides and pumps from piano strings. After these languid node vibrations are met by low-pitched bass plucks, Leimgruber’s slurring reed pressure swells to staccato and altissimo reflux. This duet is further characterized by high-frequency note substations, wafting split tones from the saxman plus contrasting keyboard patterns.
Leimgruber, Demierre and Phillips may have jumbled the letters in Albeit to title this CD’s instant compositions as if they were creating the clues for a word puzzle. In most cases the results are gobbledygook in any language. Conversely the music contained beneath these bizarre titles is some of the finest contemporary improv imaginable.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Albeit 2. Tiebla 3. Eatlib 4. Itable 5. Baleti 6. Etabli 7. Abteil 8. Ilbeat
Personnel: Urs Leimgruber (soprano and tenor saxophones); Jacques Demierre (piano) and Barre Phillips (bass)
March 13, 2010
Berlin’s European Jazz Jamboree Offers a Unique Take on American-based Jazz
By Ken Waxman
Like one of those novels of speculative fiction that posit a scenario in which the South wins the American Civil War; or perhaps like a variant of Superman Comic’s Bizzaro planet where everything is the reverse of earth, 2009’s European Jazz Jamboree (EEJ) offered an alternate view of jazz history. Here the music was essentially in the tradition, but, in the main, interpreted by Europeans rather than Americans.
This led to some spectacular performances taking place during the series of concerts in selected Berlin venues during mid-September. But as Superman found when he visited the Bizarro world, altered history can sometimes be disconcerting. Similarly some of the EJJ combinations failed to live up to their expected promise(s). In a further Bizarro-like irony, some of the fest’s best sounds came from aggregations whose music had very little to do with the EJJ’s stated theme.
Arguably the most profound exercise in extrasensory perception and creation involved two Swiss: saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and pianist Jacques Demierre, plus American-in France bassist Barre Phillips. Presented at an Institute Français concert on Kurfürstenamm, the trio music was as abstract as it was breath-taking. Also notable on the EJJ’s first evening was a foyer set at the Kino Babylon, in the city’s Mitte area, which matched reedist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky – one of the founders of East German Free Jazz – with youngish drummer Michael Griener in a duo called The Salmon.
Griener also drummed in the Workshop Band of Petrowsky’s long-time associate, pianist Ulrich Gumpert, which in an auditorium concert at the Kino, successfully recast the work of one of the pianist’s mentors, American bassist Charles Mingus. Consisting in the main of classic Mingus compositions, the program allowed members of Gumpert’s eight-piece aggregation to add distinctive sonic flourishes while expanding the bassist’s familiar lines.
Contrasting Views of Charles Mingus’ Works
With tunes such as “Boogie Stop Shuffle” anchored by subterranean rumbles from Ben Abarbanel-Wolff’s baritone saxophone, these low pitches set the pace more so than the piano’s chromatic chording or the in-the-pocket rhythms from Griener and bassist Jan Roder, who plays more freely in other circumstances. While the arrangements of classics such as “Good bye Pork Pie Hat” and “Fables of Faubus” took full advantage of the harmonies and counterpoint available from three saxophones – Christian Weidner and Henrik Walsdorff were the others – the outstanding individual soloist was trombonist Christof Thewes. He was equally impressive constructing sophisticated Lawrence Brown-style obbligatos or letting loose with plunger-pressured, near-gutbucket growls.
The performance coalesced into high intensity on the final number with churning rhythmic power encompassing Roder’s thumping bass, Griener’s brush-propelled pulses and the pianist molding single note clusters into portamento runs and pseudo honky-tonk clanking. Following an episode of pumping and popping horn vamps, the rhythm section members traded fours then twos, with Roder scraping his instrument’s wood and Griener smacking his drum tops bare-handed. As the climax exploding every which way beneath a triplet-laden solo from trumpeter Martin Klingeberg, the group was nudged back into straight time by churning piano chords.
Using unusual quartet voicing that united tenor saxophone (Daniel Erdmann), alto saxophone, clarinet and alto clarinet (Michael Thieke), bass (Johannes Fink) and drums (Heinrich Köbberling), the band Dok Wallach, set up in the Kino lobby the next night, with its distinct version of Mingus material that had been composed earlier or later than the tunes tackled by the Workshop Band.
Running one piece into another almost without pause – a strategy also used with varying success at other points by Monk’s Casino and Silke Eberhard/Aki Takase’s Ornette Coleman Anthology duo – the four managed to suggest Mingus’ links not only to advanced mainstream jazz, but to the R&B and Latin traditions that nurtured it. Done this way, the tunes also pinpointed how the bassist’s advanced voicing foreshadowed Free Jazz, which would continue to draw on Mingus’ musical evolution.
Tunes such as “Hobo Ho” and “Weird Nightmare” benefited from Erdmann’s heavily breathed tongue stops and honks on the one hand, and Thieke’s running changes with dissonant and atonal cries on alto clarinet on the other. Some of the most interesting counterpoint appeared when Thieke and Fink adopted a contrapuntal Eric Dolphy vs Mingus dialogue with the other two laying out. Spicatto, Fink whipped tautly pinched strings with his bow, as the alto clarinetist blew undifferentiated air, warbled and tongue-stopped. Later Köbberling would clobber his snares and toms to match sustaining timbres from Fink’s strings, while Erdmann moved to strident bird calls and resounding tongue-slaps to maintain the proper solemnity when duetting with Thieke. Throughout the set there were examples of intuitive call-and-response patterns developed into thematic reed interface, as well as sharp rubato passages that bounced among the four as melodies and improvisations were conflated into generic unity.
Focus on Ornette and Dolphy
Eliminating expected rhythm section incursions, Swiss alto saxophonist Eberhard’s Potsa Lotsa, had saluted Mingus’ favorite saxophonist – Dolphy – in the same location the day previously using only horns – her own alto saxophone, Patrick Braun’s tenor saxophone, Nikolaus Neuser’s trumpet and Gerhard Gschlössl’s trombone. Rather than being limited by the instrumentation, this layered polyphony added new tinctures to Dolphy’s best-known music, which sadly had been created in less than half a decade.
The compositions were re-harmonized canon-like with trumpet grace notes at the top and Braun’s deeper sax tones providing the ostinato glue holding together the undulating improvisations. Distinctive touches included Gschlössl adding downcast moans to a reading of “Out to Lunch”, which otherwise bounced along on rubber-mute fanning from the brass; and blustery vibrations from the saxophones in broken octaves, as they worked through pieces from Dolphy’s storied Five Spot-recorded LPs.
Re-interpreting another’s material to make it your own was also demonstrated during two sold out sets later in the week at Charlottenburg’s Jazzwerkstatt + Klassik Shop and Café by the Eberhard/Takase duo. Playing alto saxophone and clarinet, the reedist now takes more liberties with the Coleman material than she did in the past. So does the pianist, whose advantage is that Coleman rarely played with keyboards. At the club, Takase’s hard-driving bounces, bustles and bangs both on the internal strings and the key themselves – not to mention her pointed and clever techniques – a appended a sense of surprise to the idiosyncratic compositions. Perhaps relieved to share leadership chores, Takase’s improvising was more relaxed and better focused than what she offered the night before with her Fats Waller-tribute combo.
Essentially, Coleman tunes such as “Blues Connection” and “The Face of the Bass”, which already reference tonality, were wedded to an accompaniment that highlighted stride’s unison arpeggios and the double pumps and moderato, bluesy chording. Feeding the saxophonist kinetic runs and walking bass lines, Eberhard in turn became liberated enough in many instances to expose glossolalia and hardened flutter-tonguing. For instance, pieces like “Una Muy Bonita” and “Beauty is a Rare Thing” provided a study in contrasts. The later joined behind-the-beat boogie-woogie-like runs with saxophone triple-tonguing; while the former mixed Eberhard’s altissimo cries and note-bending with Takase humming in time with her playing as single notes ranged all over the keyboard. At points Takase even smashed the keys with sharpened elbows. While there was a curiously unfinished quality to some numbers – as if the two had yet to agree on a definitive performance strategy – interpolations of other Coleman lines and sympathetic double counterpoint during both sets – plus two encores – confirmed the duo’s future.
The night’s most unusual timbres were fished from the strings during one tune when Takase manipulated a wire through the piano’s wound internal set. Meanwhile Eberhard’s only bow to New music invention was a single clarinet cadence respired onto the piano strings. As individual as her saxophone playing, this woodwind brought out more legato soloing from Eberhard. Moderato and trilling in execution, she evidently reserved tone-splitting, peeping and pressured vibratos for the saxophone.
Rudi Mahall meets Fats and Monk
One person very familiar with extended technique such as those while utilizing the properties of a legit woodwind is bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall. His straightforward and joyous inventiveness was the most satisfying – and purely musical – portion of the Fats Waller program the night before. More naturalistic, his improvising smarts two nights previously as part of Monk’s Casino locked in with the game plan developed by trumpeter Axel Dörner, drummer Uli Jennessen, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and bassist Roder to restructure Monk’s over-familiar oeuvre so that the sonic edifice could be appreciated on its own. Both shows took place in the Kino’s auditorium.
Role-playing appeared to dominate Takase’s Waller project, with drummer Paul Lovens channeling Baby Dodds two-beat rhythms; trombonist Nils Wogram’s wah-wah wails wavering between the styles of Kid Ory and Tricky Sam Nanton; and Takase wedding the sophistication of Duke Ellington’s touch to Waller’s boisterous pounding. American banjoist/guitarist/singer Eugene Chadbourne’s shtick is an acquired taste, and while his girth is now approaching that of Waller’s, his humor – like some of Takese’s keyboard interpolations – occasionally seemed no more than monochrome reflections of Waller’s multi-colored performance and personality. The overall impression given by Chadbourne’s vocalizing was that he couldn’t decide whether to treat the songs – which Waller himself often burlesqued – as parodies or to sing them straight. It was the same with Takase’s soloing. Given her head, as on “Honeysuckle Rose”, she constructed a fantasia with cross-handed jumps, chromatic chording and staccato, forte rebounds. But by exposing this blindingly swift technique and expanded range, she almost reduced the Waller tribute to a series of well-remembered heads without extension.
That’s why the work of Mahall – who played Gene “Honeybear” Sedric to Takese’s Waller – was so refreshing. Someone who is not averse to spicing up his solos with a bit of Charleston-like leg wobbling or Elvis-like hip-shaking, he’s never anyone else than his own man whether the musical subject at hand is Waller, Monk or spiky Free Jazz originals. Like Waller in his prime, Mahall always looks like he’s having fun at the same time as he continues to output superior improvisations. His stance could be seen as a more profound celebration of the tradition characterized by the EEJ than Chadbourne suddenly donning a blonde wig, and mimicking Marilyn Monroe or Bob Dylan while he sang. Another question was why the entire combo felt nostalgia like “Way Down South Where the Blues Were Born”, “I Like Oysters” and “Just a Gigolo” had to be played more-or-less straight.
Pick Your Favorite Monk Number
Monk himself recorded “Just a Gigolo”. But luckily von Schlippenbach, whose pianistic approach suggests gravitas rather than gaiety, eschewed that particular number with Monk’s Casino. Instead, like Eberhard/Takase with the Coleman tunes, this quintet’s increased familiarity with the material, through microscopic examination of it, meant that no whiff of imitation hung in the air.
Although the quintet still appears to be cramming an overwhelming number of Monkish heads into its performance, this sprightly flip-through-the-pages-of-the-fakebook approach allows for interpolations of other tunes and motifs as the set unrolls – just the way Monk would have done it. While von Schlippenbach may have been playing some of these tunes for 50 years, he never attempted to imitate Monk’s style either. With an expansive reach, and a tendency for double-gaited piano cadences, glissandi, key clips and kinetic waterfalls of notes, von Schlippenbach utilized the entire keyboard; Monk concentrated on a few select phrases and particular note clusters.
Meanwhile, Dörner played in an understated, Miles Davis-like fashion at selected spots and elsewhere wailed plunger-expanded blues lines. A master of minimalist brass exploration in other situations, Dörner subtly united every peep and cluck so that they eventually combined and mated with Mahall’s preference for broader-based, irregularly vibrated thrills. As for the bass clarinetist, he was his quirky self; at one juncture it sounded as if he was playing “Lady Be Good” apropos nothing. Another time Mahall’s diaphanous timbres contrasted tellingly with the double bassist’s scrubs and swipes.
Drummer Jennessen, following the Monkish cannon, confined himself for the most part to time-keeping with pops, rebounds, rolls and flams. However Roder’s rock-solid plucking was the locus of the band’s one vaudevillian trope, as one band member after another deserted the stage during his solo. Following some raucous backstage vamping from the horns, the others returned, with tremolo note-burbling from the trumpeter and sibilant tongue-stops from Mahall.
More Monk, some Steve Lacy and the Duke
Other homages expressed during the week came from American pianist Dave Burrell’s solo salute to Monk and Duke Ellington and Celebration Wayne Shorter by a quintet featuring saxophonist Wolfgang Schmidtke, both at the Kino auditorium; plus Swiss soprano saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder’s solo homage to Steve Lacy at the Instiute Français. Professionally played, Schmidtke’s by-the-book sounds ranged from Hard Bop to Free Bop, but never seemed to inhabit this subject’s music the way other performers in the EJJ did with their choices. Making his Berlin debut, Wickihalder celebrated not only Lacy, but the late saxophonist’s mentors Ellington and Monk. Combining half-echoed glissandi, lyrical asides, mountainous piles of splayed notes and reverberating duck quacks, Wickihalder managed to touch on Lacy’s many musical identities. Taking the improvisations one step further, at junctures Wickihalder up-ended his horn, blew into the saxophone bell, and rasped timbres by applying the reed to the side of his mouth. Viewing his expression cumulatively, with this showcase Wickihalder confirmed that he should be carefully followed musically in the future.
A veteran Free Jazzman first prominent in the 1960s, Burrell, sporty in peaked cap and leather coat, ran through an understated series of tunes which expressed the links between Monk and Ellington with side excursions into the compositions of James P. Johnson, an admitted influence on both. Moving among rags, stride piano, a bluesy “Blue Monk” and a hyper-sophisticated “Prelude to a Kiss”, Burrell managed at various time to suggest parlor piano noodling, supper club accompaniment and formal grand piano recitals. Segueing from one tune to another, he would sometimes alter a familiar theme with a walking bass undertow, rag a melody unexpectedly or conversely inject a flourish of lyrical prettiness into otherwise primeval interpretations.
Inevitably it seemed, Burrell touched on the neo-con’s rallying cry, “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing”, but the only official bow to the Swing Era was clarinetist Rolf Kühn’s second set at the Kino auditorium. That was when he and the NDR Big Band, conducted by Jörg Achim Keller, saluted Benny Goodman’s 100th Birthday.
Age is no Impediment to Good Jazz
Old enough at 80 to have actually played with Goodman during his American sojourn in the 1950s and 1960s, the Leipzig-born Kühn gamely ran through an expected set of Swing classics. Notable was a three-clarinet arrangement of “Just Friends” and a point when guitarist Ronny Graupe, from Kühn’s Tri-O, was added to the band to limn the guitar part of some Goodman-associated tunes. Nonetheless, Graupe ended up approximating Wes Montgomery’s poppier big band efforts rather than Charlie Christian’s work with Goodman. A final “Swing Swing Swing” featuring both Keller and Tri-O’s Christian Lillinger on drums was rhythmically exciting, but ultimately exhausting.
Someone who has continues to explore new musical areas even as he ages; Kühn appeared to enjoy the interaction in his initial EJJ appearance that night, playing with his Tri-O sideman, each slightly more than one-quarter his age. An additional guest was his baby brother Joachim Kühn, 65, who added his own variation of hard single notes and romantic flourishes to the music. Considering that reedist Kühn’s angled twittering melded impressively with Graupe’s flashing guitar lines, clanking bass licks from Fink –who also played in Dok Wallach – and Lillinger’s stacked drum beats, there were points at which the pianism seems superfluous. Visually striking with his leonine head of hair, the blurred fingering Joachim Kühn exhibited often translated into dynamic chord layering and pumping pedal portamento. Yet it seemed divorced from how the rest of the players stuck to connective moderato lines.
The situation was further complicated when trumpeter Matthias Schriefl – complete with a Beatle bob and wide trousers imprinted with a spider-web motif – joined the combo. Initially playing muted trumpet, he harmonically complemented Kühn’s clarinet. Passing chords and backwards moving vamps from the rhythm section distinguished the sextet’s finale. But while Rolf Kühn’s feather light vamps extended the interlude, Schriefl gathered all his strength to fire off triplet-laden refrains.
Too Many Ideas for A Segmented Orchestration
Trying to push too many ideas into a foreshortened concept – plus the showiness of another trumpeter’s playing – was what ultimately weakened the performance of The Earth is A Drum by Jürgen Scheele and the Independent Jazz Orchestra. This was advertised as a suite dedicated to the memory of pocket trumpeter and pioneering American World musician Don Cherry.
Positioned at the Kino auditorium to be a festival highlight, Scheele’s composition bristled with concepts. Unfortunately, while combing the contributions of a mainstream jazz big band, a string quartet, additional Third World percussion via drummer Dudu Tucci and two star soloists – British tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore and Danish trumpeter Jens Winther – may have seemed visionary years ago, this type of cross-cultural mixing has become commonplace, even clichéd.
For a start, many of the suite’s parts played seemed singularly undigested. The standard big-band arrangements swung, but swung towards bombast, complete with screaming brass triplets, in a way that could be honoring Stan Kenton’s so-called Progressive Jazz more so than Cherry organic compositions. This impression was further reinforced when Tucci turned from triangle-bashing, guiro scraping, maracas shaking and triangle pinging to pound Latin rhythms from his conga drums. More distressingly, the strings brought mostly 19th Century romantic tonalities to the show, complete with mournful cello sounds and unheard pizzicato plucks. If the first violinist’s weeping arco solo was thought of as original as well as technically perfect, someone was ignorant of the advances in string writing brought to jazz language by many Europeans during the past couple of decades. At points it also sounded as if there was a vocalized or pre-recorded ostinato vibrating the “Om” phrase in the background. In the 21st Century this brought back uncomfortable memories of Flower Power.
As for the soloists, Skidmore was impressive in spots when given enough space to push a style influenced by mid-period John Coltrane into more elastic Free playing. Probably the concert’s highpoint came when he was able to open up emotionally into a reed-biting frenzy which also goosed the drummers to work harder. The lingering impression left was of Skidmore exposing longer and longer note patterns, while the big band members riffed contrapuntally, collectively and almost wildly behind him.
Winther was another matter. Dressed in a shocking red smoking jacket and silk trousers and sporting a hairstyle that made him resemble the male half of Abba, the subdued timbres and low-key whimpers from his often muted trumpet suggested Miles Davis of the 1960s and 1970s rather than Cherry. Winther is a respected composer and veteran of aggregations such as the Danish Radio Big Band, German Radio big bands such as NDR, WDR and SDR plus the Århus Symphony Orchestra. But his unruffled, highly technical professionalism was the antithesis of the instinctive music Cherry helped create, first with Ornette Coleman in the United States, then on his own in Europe.
Play That Funky Music White Boy
Another ensemble which stuck out like a sore thumb in a gathering full of snapping fingers was American pianist Uri Caine’s Bedrock Trio plus vocalist Barbara Walker. This was the concluding act at the Kino auditorium, two nights before the Independent Jazz Orchestra had the same spot on the bill.
Combining thumbs and fingers, the operative body part during Caine’s set was hand-clapping. Playing piano, electric piano and Nord for additional electronic beats, and backed by flanged electric bass runs from Tim Lefebvre and the stolid back beat from drummer Zach Danziger’s over-sized kit, affable Caine appeared to be revisiting his Philadelphia youth. That was a time where the sweet soul sounds of Gamble & Huff reined supreme and where sidemen for the duo’s Philly International label played nightclub gigs with jazzers like Caine. This impression was further cemented by the vocals of Walker, an R&B belter and friend of the pianist’s from Philadelphia.
Appearing in Berlin for the first time, Walker’s impressive diction and light voice touched on scat but concentrated on gospel-tinged laments of lost love. Handclapping and wandering around the stage, Walker frequently insisted that she wanted to “testify”. With her phrasing and powerful range the singer meshed well with Caine’s extended staccato and agitato runs, the bassist’s heavy thumb pops and the drummer’s thumping. Anything but portentous, Walker came across impressively as an old school R&B stylist. But her performance was somewhat jarring in the context of a European Jazz Jamboree.
Staccato in his solos on either keyboard, Caine’s pulsating glissandi, dazzling fingering and high-frequency runs were notable as commentaries on the soul-jazz tradition; as were Lefebvre’s sliding runs. The set confirmed that the pianist refuses to be pigeonholed into any one role. Perhaps though, as someone who has saluted Wagner, Mozart, Tin Pan Alley and Herbie Hancock with equal seriousness, in this context, Caine may have been better off exposing a project that was closer to either of the first two letters of EJJ than the last.
Profound Art of the Duo
Tellingly though, some of the festival’s most profound improvising came from two small groups divorced from any attempts at homage. Ironically, both also featured musicians – Leimgruber-Demierre-Phillips’ bassist Barre Phillips (born 1934) and The Salmon’s reedist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (born 1933) – who are literally old enough to have heard much jazz history first hand.
However, neither had any desire to re-create this history, at least as a salute to any existing style. Secure in his identity, Petrowsky played both alto saxophone and clarinet as he worked out new strategies for the sort of Free Jazz that has been his raison d’être since the 1960s. That night in the Kino’s foyer he spat out multiphonics, triple-tongued, pitch-slid, cried, gasped and trilled. For his part, drummer Griener slid items such as a cow bell, a wood block, a vintage knife and a metal comb on and off his drum tops to amplify his contribution, while both detuning and spanking the metrical melody.
Mid-way through the set, playing alto saxophone in tenor register, Petrowsky spluttered out what was essentially a low-pitched blues line, as the drummer backed him with nerve beats, rim shots and tick-tock rhythms. Introducing speaking-in-tongues glossolalia – a variant of which singer Walker may have heard in her home town – the saxophonist also mixed Be-Bop references along with flutter tonguing. Fatter and wilder, his tone remained supple and metrically free – though connectively parallel to the drummer’s ruffs and pops – no matter how long he soloed. Another surprise was his individualized phrasing on clarinet. With a lazy tone replete with wooly, mid-range slips like a more formal Jimmy Giuffre, his textures consisted of chest tone and single breaths. He methodically built up clusters from tiny dabs then broke the results down again.
One Perfect Trio Interaction
Petrowsky’s soloing may have breached the limits of reed experimentation, but Leimgruber’s provided a graduate level aural essay on tenor and soprano saxophone inventiveness. Fortuitously his associates – Phillips and pianist Demierre –, whose collective performance followed Wickihalder solo set at the Institute Français, were as dexterous and inventive using their instruments as he was drawing unexpected textures from his.
Accelerating from a sparse, minimal exposition of small gestures such as the bassist lightly bouncing his bow on one string, solitary notes squeezed from the saxophone, and the pianist, forearm resting on the keys, extracting singular note patterns, the group improvisation unfolded in stages until it commanded full audience attention.
Gently vibrating the soprano saxophone, Leimgruber’s split tones seemed to resonate back inside his horn. Blowing thin columns of air, he altered his embouchure to produce different tones as Phillips rasped his bass strings and Demierre jabbed at the piano keys. Eventually the pianist’s low-frequency and low-pitched clicks thickened into broader runs as Leimgruber switched to tenor, concurrently disassembling it into components, which he strummed and shook at will. Unfastening the gooseneck from the body tube he forced staccato phrases through it, ratcheted the saxophone’s curved neck against the instrument’s bow and bell, ultimately producing harsh, almost static timbres.
As the tempo picked up, Phillips turned to sul ponticello squeaks and Demierre to strummed cadenzas, as reed textures bounced between police-whistle squeaks and basso-profundo rumbles expressed in honks, hawks, spits and tongue flutters. Suddenly the intensity that had been building up over the past few minutes was palpable and almost incendiary, as the three reached a crescendo of pounding piano chords, scrubbed bass lines plus serrated split tones and cackles from the saxophonist.
Equivalent tension-release was exhibited and experienced in the trio’s subsequent improvisation with Demierre more prominent, pushing kinetic patterns from the foot petals and slashing harmonies from the piano’s inner harp.
When the set was over, audience members concluded that they had witnessed a significant expression of no-holds-barred improvisation. This is a judgment that could also be applied to most of the EJJ’s notable performances.
Only in its second year, it’s apparent that the Jamboree is on its way to become an important addition to the musical calendar of Germany’s capital city. With a few nips and tucks, 2010’s edition could solidify the reputation for quality improvisation that was fortified with this year’s program.
November 16, 2009
April 30 –May 2, 2009
A site-specific performance that took into account the dimensions and machinery of a still-functioning 1853 linen factory; resounding interface between pulsating electronic and acoustic instruments; and a full-force finale involving a mid-sized band were among the notable performances at 2009’s Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon.
Remarkable as well as the consistently high quality of the 11 concerts that took place during the 23rd edition of this three-day festival, is the location: a farming and small manufacturing village of fewer than 7,000 people about 60 kilometres west of Linz, Austria.
Two years in the planning and the most spectacular – as well as demanding the most from the audience – performance, was Six Plus One’s “Weaving Sounds”. Utilizing the main space of Ulrichsberg’s linen mill, with machinery protected by yellow danger tape, but with enough looms, electrical cables, bobbins and bolts of cloth present to confirm this was a working environment, in many ways the setting was as important as the sonic result.
Yet the clutch of top-flight improvisers participating made sure the constant timbral pulsations were as riveting as the location and the players’ physical strategies. Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre was stationed on one side of the space, abutting an electronic set up encompassing mixing boards and computers, and manned by technicians. On the opposite side of the factory floor was German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn with his instrument connected to the electrical source for one of the largest machines. On identical raised platforms nearby were French clarinetist/vocalist Isabelle Duthoit and Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber; while Swiss violinist Charlotte Hug and singer and hand saw manipulator Dorothea Schürch created undulating tones and sul ponticello squeaks from positions on the cat walk above the factory floor.
With visual cues difficult, 60 miniature speakers placed strategically around the room enabled players to react to one another’s initiatives. If the warp and woof of their concentrated and jagged tones wasn’t stimulating enough, at points Demierre climbed on the piano bench to cue operation of one loom. Shuddering and screeching as the colorful cloth was stretched and sliced, the resulting mechanized clamor meshed seamlessly with fortissimo reed split tones, cascading synthesizer oscillations, strangled throat spewing and catgut gashing from the instrumentalists. Perception of particular passages whether banged out on a keyboard or sputtered from a reed player’s bell – as well as of the piece itself – was dependent on proximity, since most audience members changed positions several times throughout the concert.
Spatial issues didn’t figure into another electro-acoustic showcase by the French Qwart quartet two days previously. With tones bouncing off the stone walls of the Jazz Atelier, a former pig barn sturdily constructed in the 16th century, baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro’s circular-breathed growls and tongue stops vibrated so powerfully that he had to change reeds mid-set. Meanwhile violinist Michael Nick bowed abrasive spiccato, while Sophie Agnel’s timbre extension involved stopped piano keys plus strings weighted by Styrofoam cups and scraped with looped fishing lines. Providing both crackling and blurry ostinato plus broken octave expansions of the others’ textures with electronics including an e-bow and a camera flash was Jerome Noetinger. A percussive finale was created by Agnel repeatedly slamming the piano lid.
Despite concentrated electro-acoustic performances – including the slow build up of glissandi and looped drones from the Behavior Pattern trio of Austrians, cellist Noid and electronics whiz Ivan Palacky plus Japanese zitherist Taku Unami or the ambient Heavy Metal of extended and fortissimo thudding drones and whooshes from Americans, guitarist Alan Licht and cassette sampler Akli Onda – acoustic sets were often more satisfying. That is if performances were properly harnessed. New York trumpeter Pete Evans, for instance, dazzled with techniques that included brayed triplets, tremolo fluffs and excavated plunger tones. But his quartet showcase appeared never to climax – or end.
More down-to-earth were “Can You Ear Me”, a festival-commissioned tentet composition by French bassist Joëlle Léandre for a mixed Austrian strings-and-horns ensemble plus American percussionist Kevin Norton; and a hushed interpretation of Moron Feldman”s “For John Cage” by British pianist John Tlibury and Irish violinist Darragh Morgan
Equally proficient maintaining a jazz pulse with his standard kit, plus exposing pointillist coloration from struck marimba and vibraphone keys plus unattached sticks, gongs, rattles and cymbals, Norton’s rebounds and strokes sewed together some of the Léandre piece’s fissures, which strained in sections between the notated music orientation of some string players and the improv impulses of the horns. Alongside Léandre’s absorbing command of her instrument – which encompassed pumping straight time, sul ponticello string brushes and vocalized nonsense syllables – the most musically rewarding moments came when guitarist Burkhard Stangl re-directed whammy-bar-aided friction into staccato pulsations; and a section where every musician joyously shook bolo-bat versions of American Indian gourd rattles.
Ironically contrasting with the baroque gold-encrusted sculptures and pictures of saints on the wall of Ulrichsberg’s Pfarrkirche on the fest’s final day, Tilbury and Morgan’s reading of Feldman’s austere score appeared perhaps more coldly minimalist than it was. Certainly the pianist’s clanking single notes plus the violinist’s strangled split tones suggested two parallel courses that hardly intersected. Unrolling at a leisurely pace the result was almost mesmerizing, although it seemed as if the composition took a long time to get to an intermediate point.
More relaxed was a first-time improvisational meeting among Tilbury, Léandre and Norton the previous day. The pianist’s left-handed chord tinkles, which distinguish his contributions to AMM, were in evidence, as were the bassist’s col legno tones and the percussionist’s multi-directional strategies. When Léandre plucked pizzicato, Norton’s vibe strokes doubled her timbres. And when kinetic piano sonorities and string jabs in cello-range were prominent, the percussionist responded by stroking a collection of unattached cymbals, organized in size order. Other times Norton sounded a small gong or used a bow to saw on a small cymbal without ever making the gestures precious.
Precious was an adjective that would never be applied to Norwegian reedist Frode Gjerstad’s 12-piece Circulasione Totale Orchestra, whose sounds blasted the Atelier’s rafters as the Kaleidophon’s finale.
Besides Norton on vibes, the Scandinavian players were spelled by such long-time Gjerstad associates as American Hamid Drake and South African Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums, British bassist Nick Stephens, plus Americans reedist Sabir Mateen and cornetist Bobby Bradford in the front line. Each helped direct the intense Energy Music away from self-indulgence towards group cohesion.
Adding their strokes and paradiddles to a bottom further solidified by Morten Olsen’s percussion and Lasse Marhaug’s electronics, the non-European drummers built a backdrop impermeable enough to serve equally as foundation for chicken-scratch guitar licks and percussive hand-tapping from the electric bassist as well as the jagged, reed-twisting of Gjerstad and Mateen. Harmonized or alone – and often buoyed contrapuntally by Børre Molstad tuba burps or Stevens’ steadying strokes – the reedists zoomed from split tones to multiphonics, advancing improvisations in different pitches. As uncompromisingly atonal as Gjerstad on saxophone, Mateen distinguished himself with pastoral flute passages and stress-less clarinet trills. More iconoclastic still, Bradford maintained his modest and melodic composure even when the rest of the band played fortissimo.
Bradford’s molten creativity was cast in boldest relief however when the cornetist joined with a clarinet-playing Gjerstad for a demanded encore. With harmonies soaring so that they approached pure song, the unaccompanied duo also batted broken octaves back and forth. These timbres, simultaneously challenging and classic, neatly summed up the sort of unexpected sounds exposed at the annual Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon – and the festival’s abiding appeal.
-- Ken Waxman
-- For MusicWorks Issue #105
November 12, 2009
Creatively Sourcing New International Music
For MusicWorks Issue #104
By Ken Waxman
What began in 2001 as a recording outlet for a group of Lisbon improvisers has in less than a decade grown to a CD catalogue of more than 170 releases with an emphasis on fresh, innovative sounds. Under the direction of violist Ernesto Rodrigues, every month or so Creative Sources (CS) Recordings releases two or three CDs from committed international musicians. “Creative Sources is musician-run for musicians,” declares Rodrigues. “We’re not here for the money, but for the art.
“We deal with certain kinds of music, like ‘near silence’, lowercase, electro-acoustic, new improv, and some post-Free-Jazz. The musicians involved are mostly young, with new approaches to improv and composition, silent stuff and texturized sound, usually from the manipulation of the instrument, few notes, and extended techniques.”
CS welcomes demos showcasing what Rodrigues describes as “strong stuff, clear and focused – or even if the process is interesting musically and worth hearing.” Deciding to release the session, he asks musicians to supply audio masters then the violist and Carlos Santos, a graphic designer and computer musician, design the package, perform sound adjustments, have 500 copies pressed and distribute them. In exchange for supplying half the funds, the players receive about 300 CDs they sell themselves, while CS markets the rest.
CS’s international focus developed with its ninth release, No Furniture (Creative Sources CS 009 CD) by Berliners, trumpeter Axel Dörner, clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski and Boris Baltschun on sampler. CS already had a Web presence and had received good reviews for its first releases. “They (the Germans) heard and enjoyed our work and approached us about their session. We liked the music, which was in the same range as ours, so we had the chance to augment the catalogue. We established ourselves as a label that cares about this kind of music and promotes it. From then on we started to receive lots of demos from around the world for release…We refuse a lot of them,” admits Rodrigues.
Although some players on our roster put out discs on other labels, others do not. “Musicians with known credits that have some works in this kind of structure approach CS, in spite of having very different work on other labels,” he adds.
Recently for instance Goldstripe (Creative Sources CS 121 CD), showcased Bay area laptop and electronics-manipulator Mark Trayle’s lively and unsettling static-undulating drone compositions and improvisations using data read from the magnetic stripes of credit and bank cards. On the acoustic side, Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre’s One is Land (Creative Sources CS 131 CD) concentrates on high-frequency, subterranean sound waves wrenched from the instrument’s soundboard by pounding its lowest-pitched keys amplified with pedal-power. Sureau (Creative Sources CS 112 CD) is a rare example of the expressive vocal gymnastics of Brussels-based Jean-Michel Van Scouwburg, backed by percussionist Kris Vanderstraeteen and bassist Jean Demey
An earlier notable example of New chamber music is On Creative Sources (Hail Satan) (Creative Sources CS 093), from Spanish bass clarinetist Carlos Galvez Taroncher, German pianist Magda Maydas, Dutch bassist Koen Nutters and Norwegian drummer Morton Olsen. This trans-European admixture, exhibits the spacey tonal rotation and sudden introduction of extended timbres that relate to jazz-improv as well as notation.
CS was also one of the first labels to expose some local experimentalists internationally. Abu Tarek (Creative Sources CS 025 CD) for instance, documents the unique choked and splintered brass excavations of Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, in the company of fellow micro-tonalist, Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger. Absence (Creative Sources CS 034 CD) showcased the tremolo tongue rhythms, percussive vibrations and dramatic pauses of Argentineans, trumpeter Leonel Kaplan and percussionist Diego Chamy in a trio with Dörner. Meanwhile Metz (Creative Sources CS 015 CD) is unstructured Free Music from France that used acoustic strings and reeds to expose what sound like synthesizer wave forms. The experimenters in 2003 were clarinetist Xavier Charles, tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, pianist Frédéric Blondy, violinist Mathieu Werchowski and guitarist Jean-Sébastian Mariage.
Closer to its home, Stills by the Variable Geometry Orchestra (Creative Sources 100 CD) is a three-CD set featuring 46 participants in the Lisbon free music scene in large ensembles. With Rodrigues playing and “conduction-ating” the detailed, multi-shaded polyphony balances orchestral integration with solo permutations. Included are players such as cellist Guilherme Rodrigues, drummer José Oliveira and Santos, who with the label manager/violist were the core of Lisbon improvisers CS recorded initially. Stills’ layered performances draw on currents of alternating and asymmetrical jazz, rock, folkloric and New music.
As Rodrigues states: “From its creation, every work of art is fragile and needs to be nourished and shown to others, or time will erase it and it will be lost among information going on everywhere. The major labels think about profits, not music and the musicians, or they think about ‘crystallized’ forms of music that do not challenge the listener in new ways.”
August 8, 2009
Jazz à Mulhouse gives a loving French kiss to Improvised music
By Ken Waxman
For CODA Issue 337
Impressive saxophone and reed displays were the focus of the 24th Edition of Jazz à Mulhouse in France in late August. Overall however, most of the 19 performances maintained a constant high quality. This may have something to do with the fact that unlike larger, flashier and more commercial festivals, Jazz à Mulhouse (JAM) is an almost folksy showcase for improvisation.
Located less than 20 minutes away by train from Basel, Switzerland, Mulhouse is a mid-sized city of 150,000 in eastern France long known as an industrial textile centre. Low-key, JAM is rather like the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), with better restaurants.
Except for an opening concert by French guitarist Noël Akchoté, which this year was in a crowded downtown club that looks as if its standard fare is pop chansonniers, all other shows take place in two wildly dissimilar venues. The mid-day solo piano series is showcased in the acoustically austere Chapelle St. Jean. Located in mid-town, it’s a 12th Century stone church with vaulted ceilings, bas-reliefs at eye level and two gigantic sun dials, high up on opposite walls facing the stage.
In late afternoon, a JAM-organized free shuttle bus takes the audience out to the suburbs near the streetcar terminus for evening shows at the Noumatrouff, an expansive, hanger-like space that is usually a rock club, complete with grungy washrooms and a beer tent. With a two-hour gap between early-and-late performances, audience members mix, mingle, chat, chow down on their own food or what’s available from a couple of vendors, and sample the local beer.
What follows is a selection of most of the festivals highlights, with mention of a few less-than-stellar performances.
Disappointedly in fact, Akchoté opened the festivities with a nearly listless solo set that skirted shoe-gazing pop jazz. The Swiss Lucien Dubois trio which preceded him, featured a break-dancing drummer, a bass guitarist warbling lachrymose ballads and was only notable for the leader’s reed prowess..
In the piano series, Belgium’s Fred Van Hove and Switzerland’s Irène Schweizer represent the first generation of Euro improvisers and France’s Frédéric Blondy and Sophie Agnel the contemporary ones. With his waves of long white hair Van Hover, 70, resembles a caricature of a 19th Century classical virtuoso and his playing seemed to reflect this. Concentrating on easy-flowing glissandi and heavy-handed echoing timbres he created a waterfall of upwards pitched timbres with dense centres that were then smoothed down into sharp individual notes. Without using the pedals he exposed low frequency percussive rhythms that literally made audience members jump, then concluded with a calmer theme variation.
Harder and faster in execution, Schweizer’s recital exposed a cyclone of sharp note-twisting vamps that slithered between very low and very high pitches with references to classical music appearing and vanishing in seconds, plus slapped keys and subterranean pitches reminiscent of Herbie Nichols. Schweizer’s heightened rhythmic sense came through even when she used mallets to poke at the piano’s innards. With a continuous ostinato, her solo was more jazz-like than Van Hove’s, quoting “Blue Monk” and what sounded like “Prelude to a Kiss”. Despite her 10-finger flourishes, she telescoped variations so that the piece’s head was recapped before the end.
After a vigorous late-night concert the day before with fellow Gallic improvisers cellist Martine Altenburger and saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet, Blondy spent the first part of his recital exploring the nooks and crannies of his piano. With a mallet, a small cymbal and other implements he yanked buzzes, squeaks, pings and whistles from the strings. On the keys, he sometimes sounded like a combination of David Tudor and Knuckles O’Toole; on one hand creating high-frequency glissandi and suspended tones, and on the other alluding to “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Mumbling to himself and pulling faces while he played, Blondy’s frenzied key slashes, flying fingers and full forearm smacks led to an encore where his body language seemed to suggest that by nearly smothering the keyboard he could impale himself onto the sharp notes created.
A day earlier Angel, who along with Akchoté and British saxophonist Evan Parker, spent the week guiding and rehearsing separate student ensembles, was calmer than Blondy. More stately and sombre in her presentation than the other three pianists, much of her improvising focused on bottoming ostinatos and ricocheting timbres, as well as voicings that involved the piano’s wood as well as its keys. Paper clips, hard rubber balls and other objects were adhered to the piano strings before she began. During the course of her performance she would pluck a key then immediately stop it with a tool; create a series of lyrical patterns on top of vibrating drones, or wet her fingers with her tongue and apply those fingers to the piano strings. Climatic passages used the pressure of both hands to create throbbing, buzzing notes which worked their way into additional furtive arpeggios.
Masterful saxophone stylists were as well represented as keyboardists. Notable sets included one from British soprano saxophonist Tom Chant – with two unheralded but masterful French Free Jazz practitioners: bassist Benjamin Duboc and sensitive percussionist Didier Lasserre – who could be termed the discovery of the festival for a North American; Swiss soprano saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, whose sparse adaptive unity with French pianist Jacques Demierre and long-time American expatriate in France bassist Barre Philips set a high standard for chamber improv; alto and soprano saxophonist Gauguet; and an utterly time-suspending set from Parker’s long-time British trio of drummer Paul Lytton and bassist Barry Guy augmented by Catalan pianist Augustí Fernández.
With Blondy in full Jerry Lee Lewis-like pounding form and Gauguet, a breath-machine using every variety of extended reed techniques plus altering his sound by pressing his bell against a pant leg or swaddling it in tin foil, it was Altenburger who provided lyrical, yet perfectly in-synch connective passages. More admirable than congenial, the overall impression the trio’s set left was that some levity would improve this impressive chops showcase.
Chant’s pant leg was also put to good use during a few of his bubbling, note-stretching solos as well. But his output of small gestures and concise tones plus the powerful thwacks and plucks of Duboc’s tuning-peg-to-spike and sensitive double-bow exhibitions were subtly overshadowed by Lasserre’s bravura percussion skills. Missing no necessary sonic despite using a miniature kit of one bass drum, one snare and one cymbal, Lasserre unveiled squeaks, pats and silences with his bare hands and a variety of mallets and sticks for a cross section of discordant yet complementary tones. Other praiseworthy percussionists were the expected – Lytton with Parker and long-time Free Jazzer German Paul Lovens in his two appearances – and the unexpected: Japan’s Makoto Sato, with his soft mallets and Butoh dancer cool. Unfortunately Sato was part of the Marteau Rouge trio, whose guitarist and synthesizer player’s droning jams and amp sludge were more appropriate for ProgRock freak-outs circa 1967 then a 2007 jazz festival.
Polyphonically connective, the Leimgruber/Demierre/Phillips set was probably the festival’s most unpremeditatedly visual. It featured the saxophonist slowly disassembling his tenor saxophone and methodically twisting and blowing through different parts; Phillips sawing on his bass’ shoulder with his bow and playing so passionately that the bow’s horsehair streamed; and Demierre’s jack-in-the-box leaps and elbow-on-the keys emphasis. Additionally, the pianist pumped out stubby contrapuntal lines and buzzy soundboard textures, perfect accompaniment for the saxophonist’s pseudo duck calls and animated circular breathing.
Climax of the festival was literally its finale, an intense, nearly 90-minute set by Parker, Guy, Lytton and Fernández. An exercise in controlled brutality, the surges of sound unified during three extended improvisations, which despite the breadth of technique on display found the four operating like a well-coordinated assembly line, with motifs and themes passed from one to another.
This was in sharp contrast to the Charles Gayle trio set that preceded it. Now exclusively playing alto saxophone, Gayle still overblows his characteristic squalls, squeaks and screams, alternately altissimo and with fog-horn-like echoes. But despite excursions to the piano where he seemed to delight in producing dissonant Monkish runs, and donning the slouch hat and clown’s red nose of his “Streets” character as he tried out Stride riffs, something was lacking. Perhaps it was because British drummer Mark Sanders was in the rhythm section along with Gayle’s regular bassist Gerald Benson. The disparity between the bassist’s low-key swipes and the drummer’s harder and thicker tones was obvious. Obviously uncomfortable Gayle’s attempted to solder this disconnect by animatedly barking out command and counting out “Giant Steps” with foot stomps before trading fours with the drummer.
Back to the Parker crew: whether it was the unseasonable heat in the auditorium, the late hour, or the privilege of watching master stylists at work, but most audience members stayed hushed – nearly mesmerized – during the proceeding. Aloof, Lytton busied himself displaying and manipulating various parts of his stripped-down kit; banging small hard objects on top of his cymbals when the mood struck; resonating woody tones other times, and massaging rhythmic surfaces with his palms and a variety of implements. Athletic and limber, Guy appears to have the ability to produce sounds from both the front and back of his bass, no matter where the strings are located. Not only did he slip, strike and slide along his strings, but he also shook the instrument itself, gathered its strings together for massive plucks and multiplied the available textures with two bows vibrating among the strings, plus thwacking on the string set with what appeared to be a drum stick.
Although Spanish, Fernández often applied body English to his arpeggios and chords and moved his arms crab-like across the keyboard. At one point he bounded from the piano bench to trap high-frequency tinkles at the top of the soundboard, then manually manipulated the string’ speaking length. At times he seems to be karate-chopping the keys into submission. This physicality was usually complemented by Guy smacking and tapping his strings at his bass’s southern portion beneath the bridge and Lytton creating a cluster of cymbal reverb.
Initially tongue-slapping and twittering long sweeping lines so that his soprano saxophone sounded like a piccolo, Parker filled his solos with circular breathing, verbalized honks and shouts. Always in control, his nearly endless streams of intense vibrated notes didn’t vary as he remained rooted on one spot while playing.
Other groups that made impressions earlier on, ranged from the gargantuan to the diminutive. In the first category was the 22-piece Lille (France)-based La Pieuvre band, the members of which were lead in a conduction by Oliver Benoit. The many-armed group, (“Octopus” in English) smeared and rappelled through accelerating crescendos, dark, dramatic pauses and a fog of buzzing and blowing. With blustering brass solos and a collective improvisation for its saxophone section, at time the Octopus seemed to suck all oxygen from the room.
Also notable were two duos: Kiff Kiff from Lyon, France and Germans Lehn/Lovens. Trombonist Alain Gibert and his son, bass clarinetist Clément, who are Kiff Kiff, played for the most part airy, “folkloric” tunes – sometimes with words – that brought to mind the original Jimmy Giuffre3. Nevertheless there was nothing effete about the improvisations, since when he wanted to, the older Gibert produced a roistering gutbucket tone, and the younger paid homage to Eric Dolphy in many of his solos. Still among five days of more-or-less “out” music, Kiff Kiff’s lightly rhythmic melodies probably sounded more Mainstream then they are.
No one could confuse the agitated improvising of drummer Paul Lovens and analogue synthesizer player Thomas Lehn with the Mainstream. A former pianist, Lehn uses his electronic instrument like a keyboard and lunges, swivels and sways as he plays. Divorced from too-clean electronic signals, his old-fashioned synth quacked like Donald Duck, expelled trumpet-like spetrofluctuation, buzzed, clinked and clanked.
Meantime Lovens – who the day before had a busier interaction with French bassist Joëlle Léandre and Anerican-born, German-resident vocalist Lauren Newton in a set that didn’t seem to gel – appeared more relaxed with Lehn and his playing more commanding. A photo of Lehn with his white shirt and narrow black tie, was prominently featured on the JAM program and posters and he wore this nearly traded-marked outfit each time he was on stage. With Lehn, whose input-output interface and triggered pulses were warm and humanistic, Lovens used a combination of single strokes and connective rhythms to cement moods..
The percussionist rubbed his snare top as Lehn plucked chords from his sythn, and hit his attached cymbals vertically and horizontally while sometimes spinning smaller, unattached others. A common trope was scraping a vertical drum stick on the ride cymbal creating a tone as constant as, but less irritating than, chalk on a blackboard. Textures from Lovens’ wood block were often exposed as were thumps from his bass drum. Overall, this unshowy exhibition of sensitive percussion styling was a festival trait he shared with Lytton, Lasserre and Sato.
A focus on music-making, not crowd pandering is what sets apart Jazz à Mulhouse from more commercial festivals Still, there was enough high quality audience-pleasing music to explain the respect it engenders.
January 9, 2008
Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips
By Ken Waxman
September 25, 2005
Apart from a single mainstream session in the late 1980s, Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has dedicated himself to outright reed texture exploration for many years. This tendency intensified once the reedist moved full time to Paris in 1988, immersing himself in rigorous performances of notated works as well as developing an all-inclusive approach to soprano and tenor saxophone improvisation.
Now with an individualistic style established, he is as involved with composition, played by the likes of the ARTE Saxophone Quartet, as contemporary improv with partners such as French bassist Joëlle Léandre and American pianist Marilyn Crispell.
La Fourmi and ldp cologne are excellent representation of his singular work, with one highlighting his Swiss connection and the other his association with musicians from elsewhere. Recorded in Cologne, Germany, the later CD partners Leimgruber with Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre and American bassist Barre Phillips. The pianist, who also writes about music, has worked with improvisers ranging from Léandre to mainstream pianist Martial Solal, while the bassists 30-year plus tenure in France makes him at least an honorary European. Hearing a so-called drummer-less trio and knowing Phillips association with reedist Jimmy Giuffre in the 1960s, some may link ldp to the American clarinets similarly constituted trio. Close listening should dissuade them of the notion the groups sound is heartier, heavier and less precious than anything done by the Giuffre3.
Similarly, La Fourmi recorded around six weeks after ldp in January 2004 in the saxophonists hometown of Lucerne, may include Irish-born, Swiss resident Christy Doran on guitar and devices, who founded the seminal electric jazz/free music group Om with Leimgruber in the 1970s. But this CD is no fusion reunion. More cerebral and more concerned with diminutive tones ands textures than any OM product, the give away is the presence of percussionist Fritz Hauser.
Basel-born, and Leimgrubers closest musical associate in a variety of trios and quartets, like the saxman, Hauser moves among the multi-media, notated and improvised worlds. Unlike the skin beaters who have populated Dorans jazz-rock bands such as New Bag, Hauser never resorts to a shuffle or a backbeat. Hes dedicated to color not pulverize the sounds. Leimgrubers and Hausers analytical approach to improvisation profoundly affects Hans-Peter Pfammatter the young Swiss pianist, keyboardist and electronic sampler from New Bag who completes La Fourmis quartet. His wave form oscillations here involve dissonance and texture tinting, and are far removed from pop electronica.
That said the final seven untitled tracks which make up the second set of live theatre performances on La Fourmi are preferable to the first 10 that comprise set one. Overtone and textures fall into place more easily, perhaps as the result of the four having experimented on a wider and longer soundscape at the beginning.
Certainly at the start Leimgruber displays a legato, almost-Paul-Desmond- like soprano tone, that mixes with flat-picked, flanged guitar patterns, plus rattled bounces and bell ringing from the percussionist. Shattering cymbal tweaks and shimmering sine waves from Pfammatters knob-twisting then help the reedists stretched undulation to shred into shrill, squeaky timbres, backed by single-note picking from Doran and culminating in repetitive, dense electronic interface from the keyboardist.
Still the variegated tone has so taken on a distinctive identity, that when curt clicks interrupt Leimgrubers shredded split tones and pedal distortion from Doran, youre not sure whether to ascribe it to a toy piano sample triggered by Pfammatter or a tubular bell expansion from Hausers kit. Eventually, the primitive-sounding chicken-scratch guitar licks and squealing reeds peeps are transmutated into a Space-Age liaison by cross-modulated fills from Pfammatters pseudo church organ tones.
Setting up an exit strategy and a penultimate tonal variation, sandpaper textures from the percussionist, intermittent squeaks from the saxophonist, and an electronic hissing presage a final ramp up of the instant composition. Encompassing circular breathed high-pitched textures from Leimgruber, a buzzing bass line from Doran, double-quick flams from Hauser and cross-handed keyboard note flickers, the piece decelerates to faint space ship-like aural signals.
In contrast to the relaxed postlude that distinguishes set two, set one is involved with each man feeling out the other threes musical strengths and weaknesses. Idiosyncratic and strategic techniques and patterns are on display the better to make common cause. Polyphonically, Leimgrubers resonant aviary vibrations and Hausers manipulation of unselected cymbals are included in a strategy defined by Dorans distorted arpeggios and Pfammatters keyboard striations.
One climax is reached mid-way through, when the guitarists hardening note patterns begin to list towards jazz-rock, but are taken further afield by the Free Music allegiance of Hauser and Leimgruber. As the drummer offhandedly hits his ride cymbal and hi-hat and the saxophonist introduces concentrated, repetitive trills, finger picking stops being merely busy and veers towards resonation.
As a barking squeal exits Leimgrubers horn, Pfammatters responds with archetypical, hollow key pressure as if hes chording sharp modulated signals, but with the electricity cut off. Joined by echoing tones from the guitar, the backing track approaches stop time, only to sew up the diffuse, contrapuntal patterns.
To the accompaniment of side band thumping that could come from triggered electric drums or a keyboard setting, the reedists irregular, high-pitched twitters reach a point of diminished tonal colors and fragment into a dense low-key whistle.
Consisting of three equally matched intellects from the band, the atmospheric ldp cologne boasts odd composition titles as well as fine improvisations. Poignantly, all three bearing the weight of The Rugged Cross, is a characteristic display of this acoustic trios distance from the electro-acoustic quartet. Harsh sweeps from Phillips bottom strings and flat- handed palming from Demierre negate the need for a percussionist. Serpentine irregular pitches from Leimgruber soon smack up against portamento chording from the pianist and spicatto actions from the bassist. As the saxophonists trills, slurs and overblown harmonics start to resemble the cries of an agitated flock of migrating bird, quickly unfolding bass clef patterns from the pianist bond with the overtones, finding a shape in the amoeba-like mass of chording
Leimgrubers triple tonguing causes Demierre to pillory his keys with pressure so unbending that the soundboard, capotes and bottom board wood seem to echo as much as the keys. Among this rough interface, the saxophonists scratchy multiphonics eventually turn to protracted altissimo squalls followed by tongue slaps and groans. Yet gentle legato stops from the bassist moderate the others tone explosions and herd them to a quiet finale.
Metaphorically titled, the more than 17½ minutes of You Cant Grow Old Again should convince the listener that despite similar instrumentation, ldp is no Giuffre3 wannabe. Forceful where the other trio was temperate, this band combines the intricacy of the Giuffre3s communication with a rough strength of all-out playing. Here Demierre widens his attack with full-force, high frequency cadences, Leimgruber blusters macho tenor saxophone glottal punctuation and Phillips uses col legno sweeps to dynamically augment his tremolo actions.
Constantly bowing and double stopping for additional heft, the bassist moves from sul ponticello layering to resonating bass line thwacks, while still allowing enough aural room for grainy tongue stops and intensity vibratos from Leimgruber and a piano strategy that involves stopped actions and objects rolling within the key frame. Phillips too seems to have inserted sticks horizontally between his strings to produce rougher multiphonics, with the saxophonists cadences of hollow-tunnel whistles sound as if the coarse tones are being scraped from metal and ligature rather than the reed.
Matching the almost identical metallic properties of the piano and bass strings, the saxman then uses side-slipping chirps to transform the pumping bass string jettes and piano key patterning into backing percussion for his double-stopping vibrations.
High intensity cooperation demonstrated here continues through to Applegate Spark, the almost 13-minute final track. Tongue slaps and split tones from the reedist join with organic patterning from the pianist that evolves to clipped single notes as the bassist plucks and pulsates his strings. With Leimgrubers flutter-tonguing to stabbing intensity, and Demierre shaking and rumbling high-frequency bass force, Phillips sul ponticello tremolos become so piercing that they sound as if theyre severing strings as he plays.
As twittering squeals from the saxophonist joins with shuffle bowing sweeps from the bassist and dynamic, uncoiling patterns from the pianist, each man is revealed to be creating his part in outlined symmetry.
A quartet CD and a trio CD give you two chances to investigate how one reed innovator evolves strategies to fit dissimilar improvisational situations.
September 25, 2005
HERVÉ PROVINI/JACQUES DEMIERRE
Unit Records UTR 4125
Over the past few years a perverse fascination with computers seems to have overtaken improvised music, which is both good and bad. Electroacoustic improvisation is just as valid as spontaneous music making on any traditional instrument. But like anyone working with a computer program, the explorer who uses it has to make sure he controls the program, rather than letting it direct his conceptions.
Hervé Provini, the mastermind behind MUSIQUE NUCLÉAIRE, is sophisticated enough to avoid many of the high tech pitfalls. But there are points on this CD where it seems that the mechanical rather than the human is calling the shots.
Putting together this disc involved having a midi clavier input Provini's music into a computer. The drummer and pianist than improvised along with the artificial intelligence (AI) as it played back its version of the sounds.
In practice that often means that the underlying beat itself is strong, yet -- no surprise -- overly mechanical as on "Champ gravitational", "Surfusion" and "Surfusion(II)". Additionally, something like "Mass sombre (II)" makes you wonder if it's a new improvisation on the original theme or merely AI reordering the same music. Meanwhile tracks like "Percolation", "Transition de phase" and "Spin" appear --intentionally or not -- to come completely from the computer's innards, with the piano notes sounding as rapid as those from Conlon Nancarrow's programmed player pianos.
Honestly, the most memorable tracks seem to be those which are the longest, allowing human interaction to be clearly identifiable among the processed beats.
Even the disc's title is enigmatic. Why nuclear music? Hasn't anything nuclear-powered become somewhat suspect after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl ? And if "nuclear" is used to appear "modern", earlier "tone scientists" Like Sun Ra and George Russell created more impressive, futuristic tone poems --without electronics -- as far back as the late 1950s.
Provini must be commended for his ideas and interest in going beyond standard sounds. But if he truly wants to exhibit this concept, half a dozen longer pieces would have created a better showcase than the 22(!) miniatures here.
Track Listing: 1: Entropie 2: Excitation moléculaire 3: Champ gravitationnel 4: Nucléosynthèse 5: Transition de phase 6: Percolation 7: Effondrement gravitationnel 8: Spin 9: Rayonnement fossile 10: Fluctuations quantiques 11: Antimatière 12: Masse sombre 13: Densité critique 14: Surfusion 15: Trou Noir Deuxième versions: 16: Champ gravitationnel 17: Nucléosynthèse 18: Percolation 19: Spin 20: Fluctuations quantiques 21: Masse sombre 22: Surfusion
Personnel: Jacques Demierre (piano and master mini-keyboard); Hervé Provini (drums and computer)
September 11, 2000