Natalio Sued/Gerri Jaeger/Rafael Vanoli
Mats Gustafsson/John Russell/Raymond Strid
Vinz Vonlanthen/Christophe Berthet/Cyril Bond
Leo Records CD LR 638
How to come up with a group sound that’s expansive yet compact is a challenge for committed musicians, especially when economics enter the picture. Stand-alone trios are pretty much a universal solution, especially when dealing with the financial vagaries of playing experimental music. Extra-musical considerations aside, the obvious reason the trios here use this combination of reeds, guitar and percussion is that it provides each with the necessary textures for a full program. That said none of the bands and CDs could be remotely confused with any other.
Take Birds for instance. The aviary participants creating extended reductionist sounds and gestures are veterans. British guitarist John Russell has played with many EuroImprovisers, including saxophonist Evan Parker and sound-singer Jean Michel Van Schouwburg; while the others, Swedes, saxophonists Mats Gustafsson and drummer Raymond Strid, are not only two-thirds of the band Gush, but singly have worked with most of the continent’s major improvisers. Arriving from an opposite perspective is Amsterdam-based Opistor. Imbued with the power and pressure of Rock music they’re a trio of younger improvisers. Argentine tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Natalio Sued, who is also a member of The Ambush Party; Innsbruck-born drummer Gerri Jaeger, who works with stylists like trombonist Wolter Wierbos as well as being part of the avant-rock band Knalpot with Opistor’s third member, French-German guitarist Rafael Vanoli. Somewhere in the middle in terms of sound is the Swiss trio featured on Silo, which mixes Free Music with understated electronics. Consisting of alto saxophonist/clarinetist Christophe Berthet and guitarist Vinz Vonlanthen, who together perform as Effet Papillon, this combo is completed by the percussion and objects of Cyril Bond who also leads the Insub Meta Orchestra.
This middle path extends to the 13 performances on Silo, with Berthet’s reed lines in particular running the gamut from raucous to rounded and reasonable. On a low-urgency track such as “Crépusculaire” his clarinet tone is a straight-ahead as one would expect from Benny Goodman, although distinctively backed by Bond’s popping resonations; on the subsequent “Complainte alpestre” his saxophone lines vibrate with the inventiveness of an Evan Parker while Vonlanthen chords powerfully and the drummer upsets the narrow narrative with shattering pulses. Other tunes are rife with granularly synthesized crackles and cracks and reverb emanating from Bond’s objects and distorted guitar lines. While tracks like “Astéroïde” and “Cyanogène” may have enough hard, honking staccato slurs from the saxophonist, snaky chromatic crunches from Vonlanthen and hard rubbed timbres from Bond to move Silo closer to Opistor territory, other pieces trade detonation for dryness. Multiphonic reed warbles, whining strings plus aluminum foil-like percussion crumbles presage the hushed “Chimere”. Reductionist by definition that tunes arches and descends with studied vulnerability. The track combines temple bell-like resonations, dangling string accents and reed buzzes which climax with tongue slaps.
Tongue slaps are present along with snake-charmer-like trills, split tones and brief textural respiration from Gustafsson’s soprano saxophone on Birds. But the results may surprise anyone familiar with the saxman’s stentorian baritone work in bands like The Thing and Fire. Nonetheless as the session evolves, he apparently can’t control himself any longer. During the final sequence of “The Earth as the Sun and the Ravens Are Watching” and its barely 4½ minute coda, Gustafsson lets loose with scads of pent-up glossolalia. Overall however the hushed puffs and swallowed vibrations he mostly exposes here are perfectly in character with the lower-case improvising in which Russell specializes. For Strid, whose other affiliations include collaborations with restrained players such as bassists Joëlle Léandre and Barry Guy, muting his percussive overlay is no hardship. Throughout, his occasional cymbal vibrations, intermittent rim shots or rolls and sporadic clanks, clicks and rattles are limited to underline the aleatory motions of the others. Alternately, while the guitarist’s usual forté may revolve around a delicate narrative birthed from spidery licks, finger-styled clicks and stretched atonal strums, Russell’s playing turns as unexpectedly tough at points as the saxophonist’s is tender elsewhere. When Gustafsson lets loose with vocalized multiphonics at the first track’s climax for instance, Russell parries his thrust with crunching rhythmic picking, guitar-string serrated strums below the bridge and up the guitar neck. The finale finds the saxophonist expelling squeaking timbres that are almost identical to Russell’s bulky strokes before the two divide their solos into more expected staccato honks and discordant strums.
From the opposite side of the sound field no one lays back on Opistor. Jaeger’s rumbles are hard and heavy; Vanoli’s string slides and amp buzzes mixed with cohesive improvisation appears to aim for a spot where Ted Nugent meets Derek Bailey; and as for Sued, not only does he smear altissimo tones throughout his solos, but his strident reed textures on “Barbarie Capatilista” could only be described as coming from a Heavy Metal clarinetist. That concept is original in itself, but the drawback on the CD is that many of the 11 tracks fasten too fixedly on this formula. Every guitar lick doesn’t have to scream, every horn timbre doesn’t have to explode, nor does every drum beat have to echo with rhythmic overload.
That’s the reason tracks like “Paisajes Argentinos” and “Walking to Brooklyn” impress. The latter is an almost straight Swing number with walking bass lines courtesy of Vanoli, rolls and ruffs in binding counterpoint from Jaeger and high-pitched reed chirps descending to sliding tones on Sued’s part. Even better is “Paisajes Argentinos”, whose length gives the three enough space in which to define formula variations. With an exposition unexpectedly nimble and buoyant, the guitarist and clarinetist figure out a way to balance their timbres without abandoning sharp reed bites and resonating string snaps. With Jaeger’s hand drumming equally rhythmic, the three climax with a moderato ending, helped along by quivering oscillations plus metallic clanks and shakes.
Each of these ensembles is notable in its own way, with the Swiss threesome seemingly most comfortable with the collective ethos it presents. The Swedish-British combination may alter if this one-off meeting is to continue, whereas the Amsterdam-based trio must come to grips with how to moderate its style without losing its visceral excitement. Since Opistor, the CD, was recorded over four years ago though, the members may already have done so. Further developments from all will demand attention.
Track Listing: Opistor: 1. Do, dici? 2. Fragments 3. Dialogues 4. Barbarie Capatilista Cortazar’s Suite: 5. Los venenos 6. La banda 7. Final del jeugo 8. Zamba Satie 9. Paisajes Argentinos 10. Walking to Brooklyn 11. Rock, nena
Personnel: Opistor: Natalio Sued (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Rafael Vanoli (guitars and effects) and Gerri Jaeger (drums and accessories)
Track Listing: Birds: 1. The Earth As The Sun And The Ravens Are Watching 2. The Birds. They Fly As They Want, Don't They?
Personnel: Birds: Mats Gustafsson (soprano and baritone saxophones); John Russell (guitar) and Raymond Strid (drums)
Track Listing: Silo: 1. Présage 2. Alcatraz 3. Brest 4. 7h13 5. Crépusculaire; 6. Complainte alpestre 7. Astéroïde 8. Microcosme 9. Passage 10. Animal Song 11. Cyanogène 12. Durch Berlin 13. Chimere
Personnel: Silo: Christophe Berthet (alto saxophone and clarinet); Vinz Vonlanthen (guitar) and Cyril Bond (drums, percussion and objects)
May 1, 2013
Moers Festival June 10 to 12, 2011
By Ken Waxman
Ornette Coleman’s performance at Germany’s Moers Festival was the surprise birthday present celebrating the 40th anniversary of Moers, which takes place annually in this town, about 50 miles from Cologne. Announced earlier, cancelled, and rescheduled, the jazz legend’s performance wasn’t even noted in the official program. Appearing on the fest’s final night, Coleman’s quartet turned in a suitably magisterial set, with the leader, dapper in a suit, infusing his tongue flutters and altissimo reed cries with genuine emotion. Segueing through short selections including classics like “Dancing in Your Head” and “Lonely Woman”, the alto saxophonist’s lines swooped, swerved and sighed, bringing a distinct country blues sensibility to everything he played.
Meanwhile bassist Tony Falanga’s robust strumming and contemplative bowing paced the material, as electric bassist Al MacDowell used guitar-like finger-picking to color the proceedings. MacDowell’s head elaborations in unison with Coleman’s lines, or flowing call-and-response patterns with Falanga, were backed by unforced backbeats from drummer Denardo Coleman.
Moers’ 20 featured performances over a three-day period took place in what is reportedly Europe’s largest circus tent. In a positive way, Moers is like a three-ring circus. Besides shows for the tent’s massive audience, the festival hosts smaller gigs elsewhere. Daily late-night sessions showcased younger Cologne improvisers and a Latin-themed dance party; mid-morning improvisations mixed and matched players from different featured bands; plus during the week, primary schoolers were taught improvisational rudiments by experienced players.
An afternoon recital at a nearby music school by 25 pupils plus instructors such as saxophonist Georg Wissel and tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch almost confirmed the anti-free music taunt that “my kid can play that” as students created well-paced, rhythmically challenging sounds. Following that experiment with protoplasmic sound extensions however, the instructors alone proved that in-the-moment improv is more sophisticated than that and demands immediate responses. One example occurred when some players picked up on one child’s repeated nose blowing, incorporating sonic parodies of her nasal honks into their solos.
Coleman’s earlier appearance at Moers was in 1981. Drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, also featured that year, returned in 2011 with the Encryption trio of bassist Melvin Gibbs and guitarist Vernon Reid, who also played with him in the Decoding Society 30 years ago. Solid in accompaniment that included cross pulsing and bass drum accents, Jackson’s playing belied the minor heart attack he suffered the day previously. He checked himself out of the hospital for the show, returning for observation immediately afterwards. Using thumping accents and slurred fingering underlined with feedback loops, Gibbs reinforced the rhythm, while utilizing buzzing reverb during solos. Instructively, much of Reid’s evocative lead guitar work was based on slide guitar styling as traditional as T-Bone Walker’s. The three were as rooted in the blues as Coleman.
If Encryption literally amplified Coleman’s innovations, then tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon plays an accelerated variant of Coleman’s imaginative improvising. Apparently never stopping for breath, Irabagon played 45-minutes of freebop studded with split-second quotes from pop and jazz standards. Encompassing techniques ranging from foghorn growls to skyscraper-high trills, he never lost his way, frequently cycled back to the head, and at points seemed to be playing two disparate reed parts by himself. Ample space was left as well for bassist Peter Brendler’s string-slaps or below-the-bridge strums plus drummer Barry Altschul’s pinpointed bass-drum bashes that fuelled a steady backbeat. Anyone missing a piano sound could have turned to a hushed and methodical solo set from Abdullah Ibrahim. Playing mostly medium tempos, Ibrahim applied variants of touch and texture to his playing, at junctures appending a slow, rocking beat to methodical chording. His pastoral output was only traded for ringing notes during an encore when torrential rain hit the tent.
Younger bands which impressed included The Ambush Party (TAP) from the Netherlands and Germany’s Tørn. Following Germany’s bombastic The Dorf, a 25-piece ensemble which combined vamping rock rhythms with sustained, climatic lines from a multiplicity of soloists, Tørn carved out a unique program of spiky chamber-improv. Although clarinettist Joris Rühl’s pitch was strident and staccato, his squeezed timbres harmonized perfectly with pianist Philip Zoubek’s tremolo runs, key clanking and string-stopping. Bassist Achim Tang’s matchless technique supplied the melding ostinato, as drummer Joe Hertenstein’s rim shots and hi-hat slaps broke up the rhythm while keeping it free-flowing.
TAP’s pianist Oscar Jan Hoogland didn’t stint on internal string strumming and stopping plus mallet-pummelling either, but these New music echoes were only part of the band’s game plan. Improvising collectively, TAP’s material galloped among references to trance, Dixieland, Klezmer, free jazz, Tango and even opera, with vocalized, bel-canto gurgles from cellist Harald Austbø, whose theatrical string-sawing on cello suggested a familiarity with the Three Stooges as much as so-called classical chamber music. Meanwhile Natalio Sued accelerating his solos, playing both flat-line clarinet tone variants and slurping tenor saxophone runs. Furthermore, drummer Marcos Baggiani’s steady beats in tandem with Austbø’s stentorian strokes plus Hoogland’s key pumping concentrated the material so that it balanced on a mesmerizing rhythmic undertow.
Other performances highlighted influences as disparate as naïve pop, R&B, grindcore, hip-hop, electronica and ethnic music. Tellingly though, the most appealing sets maintained a strong connection to jazz, as when trumpeter Igmar Thomas’ The Cypher brought the tunes on its set to a higher level with powerful soloing from saxophonist Marcus Strickland and keyboardist David Bryant; or existed in their own sphere, such as the Afrobeat-meets-soul-revue spectacle of Nigerian singer/saxophonist Seun Kuti, which incorporating multiple percussionists, horns, electric guitars plus scantily clad female backup singer/dancers.
Michiyo Yagi’s Double Trio from Japan, which matched her shrill vocals and vigorous plucks on 17-string bass koto and 21-string koto with contributions from drummers Tamaya Honda and Nori Tanaka plus bassists Todd Nicholson and Takashi Sugawa created the most appealing fusion: in this case Oriental-Occidental. Yagi’s enormous string-sets reproduced timbres that resembled 12-string guitar strums one minute and electric guitar licks a little later on. Contrapuntally her string-strokes interfaced with Nicholson’s supple, melodic plucks and Sugawa’s abrasive bow friction as easily as its distinct tone thickened the repetitive drum beats. The results were abrasive, discordant, melodic, harmonic and wholly original.
Unique performances such as Yagi’s; plus the exposure given to younger, un-hyped bands from Europe and elsewhere; as well as the appropriately hushed celebrations of masters such as Coleman; demonstrate how Moers has managed to thrive for four decades.
--For New York City Jazz Record July 2011
July 7, 2011