SOFA 503


Visiting Ants
SOFA 502

Those who complain about the supposed sameness of improvised music should listen closely to these two completely off the cuff sessions. Even though they were recorded less than four months apart, feature the exact same instrumentation as well as the same percussionist, only the very obtuse could confuse one for the other.

LLAER presents British guitarist Derek Bailey, the grand old man of EuroImprov trading licks with Ingar Zach, a young Norwegian percussionist. VISITING ANTS — shouldn't the disc titles have been reversed? — highlights duets between Zach and fellow countryman, guitarist Ivar Grydeland.

A conservatory trained percussionist, Zach has worked with a variety of improvised and other bands in the Far North. Besides his ongoing percussive duo with Grydeland, his best-known affiliation is with Tri-dim a Trans-Scandinavian trio, which also features the exceptional Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs. Grydeland has played and recorded with British drummer Tony Oxley, Bailey's old confrere from the dawn of the close-knit London improvised music scene.

Recorded in Oslo following a Norwegian mini-tour by the duo, LLAER finds Zach seemingly deferring more to 71-year-old Bailey than he does to his younger compatriot on the other disc. At the same time, Bailey, an old hand in this sort of setting, frequently offers smoother, more pliable licks than Grydeland. Only rarely does the Englishman go hog wild with blaring feedback and electric effects, as he does on "Jerky Heads". Even then, that outburst eventually subsides into more moderated tones.

Fearless in such situations, the drummer brings out the heavy artillery, and happily bangs away on his snares, tom toms and bass drums. Elsewhere, when Bailey turns to simple repetition and even simpler licks, Zach offers up cymbal scratches, cowbell knocks and little snare tattoos. At times it can appear as if you're listening to him polish various parts of the kit as he searches for the right stroke to complement the guitarist's exploration.

After building itself up with an entire family of tiny gestures — a paradiddle here, a roll there, one-half second of a cymbal ricochet here, one-half second of a cow bell thump there, "Hepp", a drum solo, resolves itself in a speedy frenzy of almost straight jazz. In marked contrast, "Warts'n'All", Bailey's solo showpiece is mostly silences, balladic meanderings. and strumming.

Having demonstrated singular capabilities, the more than 17 minute "Real Flying" evolves as a real meeting of minds — and hands. Guitar sounds escalate from near noiselessness to hockey arena loudness. At one point Bailey introduces a section of twisted screech notes and ear splitting feedback. Zach replies in kind, pounding out a ballet of dark metal bass drum counterattack, finally forcing a return to the little rivulets of sound with which the duet began. Throughout the Norwegian comes across like Northern Mr. Fix-It in his workshop, restlessly busy, experimenting with first this tool and then the next.

Happily, a climate of easy intimacy marks the little more than 37 minutes of VISITING ANTS. Hyper-familiar with the other's moves, Zach seems freer and more insulated from the need to get hot before he's ready. If either musician suddenly wants to blast off — as they both do on "First Visit" — the other is ready. During the course of the disc, tiny bells, bowed guitar and cymbals, seemingly throttled voices, megaphone shouts and electronic washes all make their appearance. Echoed, repeated frantic or restful passages turn the entire disc into a sort of modified rondo sonata

Settling into a drum solo on ". … But Still Sofanatic" Zach maintains a measured pace, relaxing enough into the proceedings to substitute silences for the industriousness he exhibits with Bailey. While his entire kit seems to get a workout, it's the bells, cymbals and what could be vibes that appear most prominently.

Additionally, in contrast to Bailey's matter of fact stance, Grydeland is more focused. On "Think Happy Thoughts", for example, he launches a Star Wars missile attack full of rocket ship feedback and metallic electronica. So overpowering is the onslaught, though, that it's hard to determine whether Zach is along for the voyage or not. With the two compatriots definitely on side for "Dog", they come up with a speedy rock-tinged blow out that could easily attract those who have come to improv through such postrock bands as Sonic Youth.

To sum up: two discs, three musicians, many ways to approach improvised music. Both CDs deserve investigation, not only for the minute unfolding of a new Bailey partnership, but also to hear two young Norwegians evolving their version of the freest of musics.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: 1. Shiny Crimp 2. Jerky Heads 3. Horizontal Rain 4. Hepp 5. Warts'n'All 6. Real Flying 7. Buckle Up!

Personnel: Derek Bailey (guitar); Ingar Zach (drums, percussion)

Visiting Ants :

Track Listing: 1. Sofamiliar … 2. First Visit 3. Sofasticated Lady 5. Hakavik Loek 6. Think Happy Thoughts 7. … But Still Sofanatic 8. Darbu 9. Dog 10. Last Visit

Personnel: Ivar Grydeland (guitar); Ingar Zach (drums, percussion)