SCHERZBERG/HUGHES/ARNAL

Tripwire
Generate Records GEN 07

Recorded in five different venues in Hamburg and Berlin, the two Americans and one German who make up the Scherzberg/Hughes/Arnal (SHA) trio show here how their music has intensified and adapted in the 18 months since their first CD.

Although drummer Jeff Arnal lives in Brooklyn, bassist John Hughes in Hamburg and alto saxophonist Lars Scherzberg in Berlin, the verdict on this fine disc of improvisations is that they get together often enough to keep the ensemble’s sound tight. Not only, that but adding German pianist/New music composer Dietrich Eichmann to the group on three tracks, and Italian pianist Alberto Braida and pianist Giancarlo Locatelli on one, opens up new avenues of creativity.

Especially stirring are the encounters with Eichmann, whose written music has been performed by symphony orchestras in Lyon and Baden-Baden, and whose Oaksmus label pit out TOP FLOOR ENCOUNTER, SHA’s first disc.

One of those Continental musicians who seems perfectly acclimatized to both through-composed and improvised music — he’s part of another improv trio with Scherzberg — Eichmann betrays no outward Europeanisms when he plays. Yet Arnal, who has recorded some fine discs stateside with pianist Dan DeChellis, introduces some uncharacteristic Native American-sounding beats on the fourth track, while the saxist rolls out tiny squeaks and daubs of high-pitched quarter notes, and the pianist leavens the entire proceeding with glissandos.

Those Aboriginal tom-tom rhythms also make a momentary appearance on track two, another quartet outing and, at almost 14 minutes, the longest track on the disc. That’s not the full extent of the percussionist’s conception though, as Arnal adds some undulating cymbal touches in the middle of the tune and ends with some bass drum bomb dropping. An exercise in progressive motion, the instant composition includes tongue slaps, overblowing and aviary exhibitions from the alto saxophonist, what sound like prepared piano vamps from Eichmann, plus Hughes using his bow to pummel the front of his strings. Finally the tune builds up to a pitch of excitement only to expire on a single piano note.

Maybe it’s New World energy expressed in Arnal’s busy drum work as well, but Locatelli and Braida play much harder, louder and more jazz-like (whatever that means) here then on their duo discs. Certainly the cacophony exhibited when all five musicians play at the same time can’t be found in the chamber improv the Italians produce on their own. Here Braida digs into some left-handed accents before he begins stroking the insides of the piano, while Locatelli tries out the chalumeau register to expand his tone, before introducing to air hisses. There’s even some unison horn work from Scherzberg and Locatelli at the end.

On their own, SHA have the skills and familiarity to work out the tonal and rhythmic possibilities of different sounds and with different inflections, that range from near-inaudible reed trills up to what could be the sonority of garbage can lids set into percussive motion. Most illustrative is track five, which includes some of the most hushed improvisations of the 70½-minute set. At the start there are resonating variations on a single alto saxophone note held for many seconds at a time, matched with minimal arco bass backing and later some cautious drum rolls that sound as if they were played with the palms rather than sticks. Before the track ends with grating parakeet-like reed warbles, tones have been produced which can’t be ascribed to either the bass or the horn.

With expanded personnel and even more cohesiveness in presentation, SHA’s second disc is another deluxe improv seminar. It provides renewed emphasis on the talent of the three musicians and the adaptability of their music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Labor Sonar (Kule): trio 2. Oaksmus Studio: quartet* 3. Grindriß quintet+ 4. Oaksmus Studio: quartet* 5. Oaksmus Studio: trio 6. Kulturhaus Mitte: trio 7. Oaksmus Studio: quartet* 8. Bunker: trio

Personnel: Lars Scherzberg (alto saxophone); John Hughes (bass); Jeff Arnal (drums and percussion) plus Giancarlo Locatelli (clarinet)+; Dietrich Eichmann* or Alberto Braida+ (piano)