The Road Bends Here
Leo Lab CD 072

Exceptional improvisers are able to "make it new" every time they perform or record. And it's this ability that set these folks apart from the poseurs. German guitarist Hans Tammen and American bassist Dominic Duval show they have the royal jelly with this release.

Particularly noteworthy is Tammen. Acknowledged as a first rate guitar experimenter who attaches mechanical devices to his unsuspecting electric instrument to create an original sound, his acoustic guitar playing here is as unlike his electric forays as both are from mainstream jazz guitar. It's as if a tenor saxophonist was able to resemble a balls-to-the-wall stylist on one disc, then perform equally impressively as a delicate microtonalist on the next.

Duval, bassist of choice for sonic explorers raging from bombastic saxophonist Ivo Perelman to his own cerebral string ensemble, may partially be responsible for this state of affairs. With body builder's strength and a novelist's imagination, he has often shown that he can adapt his talents to any situation. On the prosaically named "Bass Solo", for instance, he seems ambidextrous enough to create different sounds with either hand, essentially dueting with himself on the bridge and the strings. Later on he becomes a one-man trio, as blows on the instrument's body begin to resemble the tone of a small African wooden drum.

A variation of that drum, this time produced by string strums appears on Tammen's "Guitar Solo". Not content with using the strings he appears to spend as much time twisting the bridge, pegs and wood to his own devices. This isn't a guitar solo, but a guitar biopsy. Those familiar with this sort of thing may compare it to the work of BritImprov godfather Derek Bailey. It certainly has more in common with Bailey's sound experiments than anything Wes Montgomery or Jim Hall ever picked or strummed, but Tammen has many of his own tricks. Even unplugged he appears able to drag metallic sounds out of his axe. The end result of this string alchemy is brutally powerful, like a sharp monochrome photo of the inner workings of factory equipment.

When the two really go at it, as on the almost nine minute "Mala Fide", you get the feeling that you're observing a championship fencing match — each man warily circling the other, then when one parries the other thrusts and vice versa. You listen riveted as idea fragments chase back and forth, with so many unnatural tones produced that you begin to question the apparently normal range of both the double bass and the acoustic guitar. "Zzzzzip", 38 seconds of instrument cases being sealed shut provide the coda for the session.

Recommended for anyone curious about the guitar or double bass, maybe the CD should have been titled THE STRING BENDS HERE.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Intersection 2. Herculean 3. Ground Level 4. Exclave 5. Mala Fide 6. Bass Solo 7. Metric Conversion 8. Guitar Solo 9. Undergrowth 10. Make and Break 11. Zzzzzip

Personnel: Hans Tammen (acoustic guitar); Dominic Duval (bass)