The Arte of Navigation
Nurnichtnur NNN 101 09 27

The Eighth House: Riding with Pluto
Entropy Stereo ESR 009

Although both these CDs are solo sessions featuring inquisitive woodwind players improvising through a couple of reeds each, the differences go deeper than the fact that one man is young and German and the other older and American.

Essentially, like many other practitioners of EuroImpov, Cologne-based alto and tenor saxophonist Georg Wissel is interested in creating his version of free improvised music without the encumbrance of other instrumentalists. Wendell Harrison, on the other hand, who lives in Detroit, is a veteran tenor saxophonist and clarinetist exhibiting his jazz chops and technique on this is first solo session.

Wissel whose background encompasses rock, jazz, composition and performance art, has worked with other Continental sonic explorers like tubaist Carl-Ludwig Hübsch, trombonist Paul Hubweber and fellow saxophonist Joachim Zoepf. Harrison, a believer in Black self-actualization, has played with artists as diverse as Sun Ra, Marvin Gaye and Eddie Harris and was part of musicians’ cooperative in that Michigan city during the 1970s. Later, along with other homies like the late pianist Harold McKinney — honored with a dedication on this disc — he mentored a new generation of young jazzers including saxophonist James Carter and bassist Jaribu Shahid. Three of the selections here also feature percussionist Juma Santos, who in the 1970s exhibited his unique rhythms with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Marion Brown.

On tenor saxophone, Harrison’s deep-toned playing is, in the main, resolutely tonal, closely related to the R&B, bossa nova and hard bop he grew up with rather than to energy music. Titles are more outlandish than any of the improvisations here. Most of the time, in fact, it could be that he’s playing on some sort of reverse Music Minus One disc, with the soloist audible, but the rhythm section silent for every listener save the reedist. Similarly, it often appears as if he’s expanding his solos by quoting melodies from unknown standards

“Dirge for Harold McKinney”, backed by Santos’ steady pounding, is the most obvious exception to his standard practices. Maintaining a mid-, rather than a funereal tempo, he indulges in some slap tonguing and upper range investigation, perhaps feeling that the emotion being expressed allows more investigation.

Schizophrenically, he seems to be both more experimental and more traditional on the ebony stick. At times, as on “Moods in Blues and Red”, his blue note inflections are almost in the territory of 1920s and 1930s soloists like Barney Bigard or Johnny Dodds. Elsewhere, as on “New Space and Faces”, with Santos, the leader whose Clarinet Ensemble trained inside-outside folks like Carter, slips and slides up and down the greasy pole. He’ll sound two notes at once, oscillate the body for a unique sound and fire out a few ear-splitting tones. R&B honkers were known for playing rhythm tenor, but here’s Harrison playing rhythm clarinet.

Wissel, in contrast, is all about extended technique. Recorded live —although unlike the obnoxious crowds in most jazz joints, the audience stays quiet except for two bursts of applause — he consecrates different tracks to his alto and tenor playing. His world definitely takes into consideration the reed advances developed by saxists like Anthony Braxton, John Butcher, Evan Parker and Steve Lacy. Key pops and multiphonics are his stock in trade, though he does highlight a few of his own aural inventions.

On “168° SSO”, for instance, the smears, growls, key pops and general reed percussion he creates from the alto, soon gives way to something that sounds as if he’s inserted a straw in a glass of liquid to produce sonic bubbles. Using the same instrument on “322° NNW”, he first breathes out microcosmic hisses and melodies, before singing into the horn, while fingering the highest reaches of the scale.

Simulated organ tones arise with his tenor soundings, sometimes using an all-encompassing echo to seemingly suck up all the air in the room. With keypad pops and jiggles he races from mid-range to aviary beeps and accents split tones to emphasize harsh, off-centre tones. More impressively, he’s able to create overtones not just from basso blats, but also from faint, near-silent ghost notes. Technical limits may have been reached with this recital. It’s categorically difficult to imagine him going on much past the little more than 30 minutes of this CD.

Trail blazing done by explorers like Braxton made the solo saxophone session almost common, and at least, accepted without argument by discerning listeners. Reedists can now produce their own variations on the theme and here are two ways to approach it — one in the tradition and one navigating a new tradition.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Arte: 1. 219° SSW+ 2. 116°+ OSO 3. 14° NNO* 4. 270°W* 5. 168° SSO* 6. 64° ONO+ 7. 322° NNW*

Personnel: Arte: Georg Wissel (alto* or tenor+ saxophone)

Track Listing: Eighth: 1. Jazz on the run* 2. Transistion 3. Riding with Pluto 4. New spaces and faces* 5. The calling 6. Moods in blue and red 7. The soul of Ossalee 8. Dirge for Harold McKinney* 9. The one in all spirit

Personnel: Eighth: Wendell Harrison (clarinet or tenor saxophone); Juma Santos (percussion)*