The Vilnius Explosion
No Business Records NBCD 1
ILK Records 137 CD/IDCD0033
With a profile so low on the international jazz scene that any knowledge of the country’s improvised music usually begins and ends with the now-defunct Ganelin Trio, Lithuania actually has its share of boundary-expanding musicians.
Not only is this truism demonstrated on these two significant CDs, but the sessions also show that Lithuanian improvisers are advancing by forging alliances with their Scandinavian neighbors. For example, although Swedish baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s name is most prominent on the cover, The Vilnius Explosion is in actuality a full-fledged group experience, with the reedist integrated into an ensemble of four Lithuanian natives – drummers Akadijus Gotesmanas and Marijus Aleska, bassist Eugenijus Kanevičus and saxophonist/clarinetist Liudas Mockŭnas. Mockŭnas also makes up one third – and one letter – of the RPM band, which recorded Rød Planet. His partners are both Danes, laptopist Jakob Riis and drummer Stefan Pasborg.
Mockŭnas’ top-drawer improvising here also confirms another truism about just any improvised music scene – no one style predominates. Thus the session with Gustafsson is full on Free Jazz experimentation in the Brötzmann-Ayler tradition, while RPM architecturally erects electro-acoustic, somewhat meditative soundscapes, as dependent on Riis’ programming as the acoustic energy expressed by the other two musicians.
Cohesive connections aren’t lacking on The Vilnius Explosion either, with the five players functioning as a unit throughout. Should Gustafsson ram striated tones and tongue slaps into the interface, then he’s followed every step of the way by Kanevičus’ bass thumps. And as the dual drummers lob the rhythmic impetus from one to another with a series of flams, drags, bounces and rolls, the two reedists similarly pair up in contrapuntal cohesion. Mockŭnas on soprano, for instance, relies on reed bites plus irregular but gentling pitch modulations, while the larger-horn playing Swede uses key percussion, tongue slaps and parlando near vocalized cries to make his point.
The Vilnius Explosion’s centerpiece is the more than 31½-minute “Untitled (Just Say No)”, a mercurial tour-de-force that may have brought back memories to Gustafsson of his work in Peter Brötzmann’s multi-saxophone, multi-percussion Chicago Tentet. On this CD however, the five journey from the near-inaudibility of tongue-stopping and air vibrations to thunderous strident textures, with the percussion clatter and patter inflating to match extended glottal slurs and reed bites from the saxophonists.
Key word here is partnership, as each player makes a concentrated effort to hook up with one or more of the other musicians at different junctures. Again Gustafsson and Kanevičus often reach a rapprochement with room-shaking baritone saxophone textures anchored by throbbing bass slaps. Similarly the two horns’ intonation frequently rubs up against one another, more for contrast than comparison. When Mockŭnas vibrates moderato lines upwards into altissimo screeching, he’s met with pedal-point growls from Gustafsson. Alternately the two create parallel tones, with Gustafsson’s low-pitched drones showcasing Mockŭnas’ undulating coloration and near-verbalized multiphonics.
As for the percussionists, to deal with, at different times, a solid walking bass line or quacking reed split tones, tandem or singular stratagems are developed. Clattering and patterning, neither beats the drums, but calls on add-ons and junior percussion instruments as needed. Added to bass thumps at one point, are rolling tom-tom pops and regular paced beats. If moderato reed harmonies inflate to shredding timbres, freak notes and stuttering tongue slaps, the response involves bell-ringing cymbal pulsations and the equivalent of door-knocking from the snare drums.
With the horns’ final variation built on hocketing waves of sound, the reed inventions eventually evolve to plainsong-style unison. Background rasps, bops and scrapes in double time from the drummers coupled with sul tasto bass patterns provide proper framework for Gustafsson rupturing every note as it rolls off his tongue and Mockŭnas’ vocalized interventions.
Conversely, as the only horn(s) in RPM, Mockŭnas’ output is more moderato and serpentine, arriving more from his diaphragm than his throat. Similarly Pasborg, who in the past has worked with saxophonist John Tchicai and French guitarist Marc Ducret, never hammers his point home, but uses concussion and friction to interlock with the others’ timbres. Riis too avoids sucking all the available space from the tunes by selectively adding signal processed and oscillated tones. This isn’t his first improvisational foray either. He was also a member of the Expanded Botanics band with Phillipp Wachsmann on violin and electronics and percussionist Peter Ole Jørgensen.
Time-shifting drones and crackles adding depth to the acoustic instruments’ output so that the result is almost tensile. “Honey Pot”, for example, blends chromatic tenor saxophone lines, quasi-Native American drum beats and blurry signal processing. In contrast, “Dingo” reveals what can be achieved with footstep-paced drumming, gong-like resonation, signal-processed delays and watery multiphonics from the reedist.
Appended throughout are timbre-tinctures which add to the overall sound picture without being undifferentiated. Thus mallet-driven vibe-like concussion, accordion-like swells or a thudding bass line result from the extended techniques expressed with skill by Mockŭnas and Pasborg, as much as from the signal-processing and ring modulator clangs that are the province of Riis’ lap top. Although variations of pitch and temp create off-handed references to other sounds, RPM’s vision stays constant.
Different sides to the Free Improv coins, these CDs not only capture evolving sounds in Northern Europe, but also give greater exposure to Lithuanian musicians unjustly almost unknown outside of their own country.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Rød: Track List: 1. Honey Pot 2. Light Light 3. Afro Pling 4. Reveille 5. Pit Cult 6. Pan Clock 7. Dingo 8. Cyborgs Prelude 9. Rotations 10. Moist Storm
Personnel: Rød: Liudas Mockŭnas (soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones and bass clarinet); Stefan Pasborg (drums) and Jakob Riis (laptop)
Track Listing: 1. Untitled (Just Say No) 2. Untitled (We Don’t Remember) 3. Untitled (Shield) 4. Untitled (The End)
Personnel: Vilnius: Liudas Mockŭnas (soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones and bass clarinet); Mats Gustafsson (baritone and slide saxophones and alto fluteophone); Eugenijus Kanevičus (bass) and Akadijus Gotesmanas and Marijus Aleska (drums)
February 13, 2009