Sound Quest
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1140

Well-traveled German pianist/composer Ursel Schlicht has staked out a territory midway between the fustian assault practiced by the generation of Teutonic improvisers headed by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and the near inaudible techniques of emerging tone stylists like bassist Werner Dafeldecker.

However, as this fine live CD demonstrates, she’s a bit closer to the earlier players for a couple of reasons. For a start you can actually hear all of the nuances emanating from each instrumentalist on this disc, recorded in her hometown of Kassel. Second, like Brötzmann and others, Schlicht, who lives part of the time in Manhattan, and has played elsewhere in Europe and Mexico, has forged strong bonds with American jazzers. As a mater of fact the other member of her regular working quartet here are all Yanks.

Trombonist Steve Swell, who is practically a dues-paying member of the so-called traditional avant garde has still found time to play with everyone from vibist Gregg Bendian and saxophonists Tim Berne and Jemeel Moondoc. Bassist Ken Filiano is known for his work with multi-reedist Vinny Golia, while drummer Lou Grassi has gigged with everyone from Ragtimers to Free musicians, including an ongoing duo with Wuppertal-based trombonist Günter Heinz.

Additionally, trans-oceanic energy reach a higher pitch on “Sound and Fury”, when the four face the accentuated bent notes of local alto saxophonist Martin Speicher. Someone who plays contemporary classical music as well, Speicher’s additional horn makes the piece sound like one of those early, brassy Anthony Braxton Quartet romps, when trombonist George Lewis was in the band. Swell, of course, is very much his own man, with bell-shattering growls and slides keeping pace with the saxophonist’s exaggerated tone and Schlicht’s piano clusters. The energy never abates throughout, mostly due to Grassi, whose attack is practically levitating.

Subtle percussion vibration is another trait of one of Manhattan’s finest drummer as he demonstrates on “Crescendum”. Echoing sounds decorate one of the few solos from Filiano who provides his own beat by smashing the strings with the side of his hand. Later Grassi later creates shunting train track rhythms on his kit’s metallic rims and shells as the keyboardist introduces a carpet of arpeggios and distinctive pulls and smashes from piano preparations. With all this taking place simultaneously Swell squeezes out jungle growls. Tension is finally discharged in a multiple musical orgasm after which the bassist trickles out caressing pacific lines.

Schlicht’s more than 15-minute title tune starts as a Filiano showcase as well, with almost 6½ minutes of plucked, cello-like, double-timed reverberations before the other four suddenly appear. Most notable are the trombonist’s recessed bell excavations and flutter tonguing that jockey for space with pianist’s melded sonic clusters. Intertwining a singular, tiny decorated counter melody of high-pitched, right-handed notes, she extends the theme for a while and then the piece slowly moves to a coda of faintly baleful tones.

It is any surprise that audience for this German club date frequently applauded throughout? A pulsating force de frappe, SOUND QUEST is an auspicious musical entente.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Sound and Fury* 2. Implications 3. Sound Quest 4. Crescendum 5. Tacit Agreement

Personnel: Steve Swell (trombone); Martin Speicher (alto saxophone)*; Ursel Schlicht (piano); Ken Filiano (bass); Lou Grassi (drums)