KING ÜBÜ ÖRCHESTRÜ

Trigger Zone
FMP CD 117

The first question that suggests itself when faced with a self-contained, nearly 69 minute EuroImprov session like this is how do nine musicians play so quietly for such a long time? The second question is why do they do so?

Both queries can be answered the same way. King Übü's music is all about collective improvisation, not soloing, so the best way to deflect individualism is to create at such low volume that sounds merge into an organic whole.

The best parallel to what goes on here could be those immense poster-like pictures created by the masses in Chinese stadiums. Individually the portion of the illustration each person holds resembles nothing much, but when the thousands of pieces are put together, a mammoth poster results.

TRIGGER ZONE also serves as a definition of improv itself. Unlike traditional jazz or pop music where the emphasis is on showy facility and where the reports of the creation often resemble the description of an athletic contest — harder, faster, louder, longer — this is above all obtuse group music. Whether its genesis is Zen Buddhism or Utopian Socialism, depending on a preference for religion or politics, this selflessness also seems profoundly European: at least that's where the greatest number of its practitioners reside.

If anything, in fact, this CD, the band's first since 1992, is even more focused than the last one. With three new members — trumpeter Axel Dörner, bassist Fernando Grillo and guitarist Jean-Marc Montera — as well as recording as a nonet instead of a tentet, the group's collective action is that much more pronounced. With every movement seemingly Lilliputian, the best way to appreciate what's going on is to turn the volume of your sound system up about 20% louder than usual.

What is happening is the creation of an entire symphony of small gestures and sounds that you may at times not be able to connect to any particular instrument. Most involved in this is Übü leader Wolfgang Fuchs — who no doubt named the ensemble after the main character in Alfred Jarry's early 20th century drama. His sopranino saxophone work and the tenor saxophone explorations from Peter van Bergen often appear claxon-like or smeared over the compositional surface, rather than elaborating melodies. Matching them are long excretions of steamrollering, penetrating brass notes from Dörner and trombonist Radu Malfatti. Meantime Paul Lytton, who is pictured in the booklet as having dispensed with a kit for what appears to be a tabletop tea service of percussion, uses those implements for cymbal clatter and what could be the sound of nails being run across a blackboard.

Electronics controlled by Lytton and violinist Phil Wachsmann further complicates the mix with sounds that appear to be short wave static, computer whooshes, radio signal buzzes and air escaping from a balloon. More recognizable are the blasts from Melvyn Poore's tuba, but even what he does can be related more to tones than notes.

Accepting that this program of distended sound textures offers much tension, but little releases, the path of least resistance is to merely let the music wash over you like an ocean wave.

With this type of sound and the many prolonged silences that extend each of the tracks, can this CD be considered fully successful? According to the liner notes, even some of the musicians were unsure. It's up to the listener, then, to be judge and jury. But this disc is surely one that should be examined by anyone interested in the evolution of modern improvised sounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Trigger Zone: 1. Area One 2. Area Two 3 Area Three 4. Area 4

Personnel: Axel Dörner (trumpet); Radu Malfatti (trombone); Melvyn Poore (tuba); Peter van Bergen (tenor saxophone); Wolfgang Fuchs (sopranino saxophone, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet); Phil Wachsmann (violin, live electronics); Jean-Marc Montera (guitar); Fernando Grillo (bass); Paul Lytton (percussion, live electronics)