FOURINONE

Stelen
Random Acoustics RA 026

Named as if it was a Thelonious Monk tribute band, FOURinONE is actually a European collective dedicated to instant composition. Made up of three virtuoso Germans and a dedicated Dutchman, all of this more than 65 minute CD shows how well the products of four top-flight improvisers can blend together into a coherent whole.

While each performer is a virtuoso able to push his instrument to its perceived limits — and beyond — the organization and timing of the combo is such that when needed they can all stop on a dime, or maybe that should be a mark or a guilder. Throughout, the band is able to demonstrate its talents and telepathy, whether it be on "Enchantment", the nearly 28 minute first tune or the less than three minute title track.

One of the best-known Teutonic trombone trailblazers, along with his older brother Konrad, Johannes Bauer often switches from mutes to blaring open horn within a single solo. Using lip trills and concentrating on the lower part of the 'bone's range on "Enchantment", he builds up ascending stairsteps of sound until, double and triple tonguing, he turns to multiphonic blats and definite slide movements. Soon he's vocalizing, then whinnying like a horse through his instrument. The performance is so overpowering that it's often a while before you notice that Martin Blume has been accompanying the solo with subtle drum patterns.

This methodology is used later on as well, allowing the four to split into two duos — trombone and drums and saxophone and bass — then join up again like the dancers in a Busby Berkeley choreographed movie showcase. On "Herenboekje, berenhoekje, boerenhekje" the converse comes into play, as the four collectively improvise like stallions linked in a stagecoach team.

Split second interaction shouldn't be a surprise, since the four have been playing as a unit since 1997 and worked singly or in twos or three in other bands. Coming together like a Continental Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, drummer Martin Blume and bassist Dieter Manderscheid have also been the rhythm section for band headed by reedman Frank Gratkowski and vocalist Phil Minton. In fact, there are times when the two construct a perfect freebop pattern in the background without detracting from the soloists.

Leaving the interactive music software he has developed since the mid-1980s home in the Netherlands, saxophonist Luc Houtkamp dedicates himself to his reed instrument here. He's an advocate of extended techniques, moving the likes of slap tonguing and shakes from their vaudeville roots into free improv. Often, as on the atmospheric "Pause - oder was", his solos consist of infinitesimal bird-like chirps. Other times he'll increase intensity by continuously pushing more and more notes into a strongman-like display of circular breathing.

Although the notes say STELEN was recorded in Cologne's Loft there's no applause at the end of each track, probably due to time considerations. There should be, since this disc is a fine achievement.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Enchantment 2. Stelen 3. Vielleicht ist nichts völlig wahr, und selbst das nicht 4. Herenboekje, berenhoekje, boerenhekje, ... 5. Pause - oder was?

Personnel: Johannes Bauer (trombone); Luc Houtkamp (alto and tenor saxophones); Dieter Manderscheid (bass); Martin Blume (drums)