Potlatch P501

Restricting itself to group music making, Phosphor (the band) has with PHOSPHOR (the CD) created a fine disc that offers up intricate abstractions and noises without focusing on individual sounds or players. It also indicates how strongly the cult of collective expression has taken hold in certain Continental circles, with Berlin as its epicentre.

Yet one should probably realize that this collection of Austrians and Germans, plus an Italian saxophonist and a British tubaist are able to create sonic magic from these micro-events because each individual has a thorough grounding in more expressive music, be it jazz, contemporary classical, electronica or noise-rock. Singly or together, the eight have worked with almost every prominent minimalist improv musician extant in Europe, North America and the Antipodes, so that ironically the band is literally an all-star aggregation. It has certainly created another crucial document that ranks with the best work of other stillness supporters, such as Chris Burns’ nonet and Wolfgang Fuch’s King Übü Orchestrü, both of which number trumpeter Axel Dörner, featured here, among their members.

As well, the sounds that are revealed on this CD range from the harshest electronic static to near inaudible tones. Mixed with such “real” instrumental tones of trumpet, guitar, tuba, percussion and soprano saxophone are not only the electronics assembled by the trumpeter and Ignaz Schick on live electronics, but creations like Andrea Newman’s inside piano and mixing desk, and Annette Krebs’ electro-acoustic guitar.

Used without gimmickry, Robin Hayward’s tuba makes the most of its distinctive appearances. Its distinctive subterranean reverb stands out from the sudden smashes of electronic static whacks of electric guitars and ringing bells that surround it on the first track. However it’s probably also the brass bass that creates what could be only be described as how a toilet in a long tunnel would sound if it exploded as it was flushed. Additionally that’s probably Hayward’s instrument in one section of the final track, or someone has recorded in stereo a full-grown rhino snoring.

Strings, probably from the guitars or piano rubbed in some way, join with Beins’ accented percussion and reverberating cymbals to give a human dimension to more electronic whooshes and static here and there’s even an identifiable horn bleat — is it soprano saxophone or trumpet though? — that appears. Of course when sounds turn to aviary whistles, someone (Beins?) bangs away on what sounds like metal garbage can lids at one point, and the suspicion remains that some of the lower-pitched pounding is someone’s knuckles or a string instrument’s wooden body.

There’s even some (inadvertent?) humor on track 3, when the silence is shattered by what appears to be a ping pong ball being hit. Did the group take time off for a quick set of doubles in the studio? Certainly the sound remains there even after what appears to be an old tugboat leaving the harbor moves past the ping pong table.

Still tracks two and five, the longest at 12:48 and 12:59 minutes produce some genuine, prolonged excitement. Managing to overcome self-imposed sonic limitations, the former transforms whizzing static, microscopic percussive sounds and the saxophone’s flutter tonguing into an aural picture of a tropical rain forest. Saxophone ghost notes and key pops figure on the later, with electronic thunderclaps and percussion seemingly hit at random giving way to string clicks that suggest they’re jumping from one guitar to the other. Later a just-out-of-earshot guitar melody can be heard.

This disc goes a long way towards convincing anyone that sonorous micro sounds can be created selflessly. But the band’s achievement may be sowing seeds of its own destruction. As just one of the many projects that’s raising the profiles of the musicians in this octet, it’s adding to their renown as individuals. History has shown that leaderless collectives rarely last — ask anyone who was around in the 1968 in France or as part of the 1970s Peace The Movement in North America. Or look at the experience of King Übü, which is definitely woodwind player Wolfgang Fuch’s group, or the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra which has always been led by bassist Barry Guy.

With these examples before you, it becomes even more worthwhile to seek out this sonically adventurous CD. This particular purposeful grouping may never exist again.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. P1 2. P2 3. P3 4. P4 5. P5 6. P6

Personnel: Axel Dörner (trumpet, electronics); Robin Hayward (tuba); Alessandro Bosetti (soprano saxophone); Michael Renkel (acoustic guitar); Annette Krebs (electro-acoustic guitar); Andrea Neumann (inside piano, mixing desk); Burkhard Beins (percussion); Ignaz Schick (live-electronics)