Air Street
between the lines btl 023/EFA 10193-2

Creating impressive chamber jazz is a fiendishly difficult challenge. Play too gently and the sounds begin to resemble background music; play too aggressively and the raison d’être- is gone. Luckily saxophonist and clarinettist Michael Moore has avoided both those pitfalls on this CD.

Of course it helps that his trio is completed by two inventive types, who never allow the parameters of a given form to mute their exuberance. American-born, long-time Dutch resident cellist Tristan Honsinger has been exhibiting his anarchistic tendencies since the 1960s and can even upset established mischief-makers like the members of Misha Mengelberg’s ICP Orchestra, with whom he frequently plays. Younger Dutch keyboardist Cor Fuhler isn’t content to be a fine improvising pianist. He also moonlights with electronic equipment as an eccentric DJ/turntablist and expresses himself on unique home-made inventions, like the keyolin, a two-string violin on a frame, which he plays on this set.

California born, long-time Amsterdam resident Moore is more grounded, but his reach exceeds that of most conventional chamber players — jazz and classical. Bands he participates in, including the ICP Ork, the since disbanded Clusone 3 and his own Available Jelly, are as likely to play a song by Bob Dylan as Duke Ellington and pay homage to African as well as European and American music.

In a way, with AIR STREET, Moore and the others are extending the advances of clarinettist Jimmy Giuffre — another Westerner who transplanted himself east — and whose reeds-piano-bass trio despite its brief life in the 1960s has been highly influential, especially in Europe. Giuffre, though, didn’t partner with the likes of Honsinger and Fuhler. One of the fascinations of the almost 66 minutes of this disc is how Moore, who wrote all but two of the tunes, manages to reign in the other two musicians’ exuberance for the sake of the entire project.

As early as the first track as Moore expels a legit clarinet tone and Fuhler busies himself with semi-classical, romantic piano musings, Honsinger starts audibly mumbling to himself as he plays. Soon he’s grunting and banging on the cello’s face and literally laughing: “ha ha ha ha”. Moore counters with some kazoo-like sounds and aviary honks, and Fuhler goes full bore on both Hammond organ keyboards. By the end the reedist and cellist are buzzing around like angry wasps as Fuhler produces accentuated bottom chords.

Despite using a Hammond, the keyboardist is more 16th century choirmaster Giovanni Palestrina then jazzman Johnny “Hammond” Smith, as he demonstrates on “Still Beating”. Using a swelling, near ecclesiastical drone, he gives the steady arco cello sweeps and clarinet trills a platform upon which to improvise. At times it appears as if the three are uniting to play “Rock A Bye, Baby” until Fuhler varies the drone with what sounds for all the world like a ringing telephone.

A whistling sax mouthpiece enlivens the title track, mixed with ghost-like atonal shrieks from the cello and some koto-like thumb picking from the pianist. Here, as the cellist’s mock fury continues unabated and Moore resorts to tongue slaps to get attention,

Fuhler bangs on the instrument’s sides and begins exploring the piano innards. He mutes the strings and presses down on the sustain pedals so that the muffled notes echo for a protracted period. Alternately, as on “Nobody’s Blues”, when Moore and (surprisingly) Honsinger stick to the regular ranges of their instruments, Fuhler yanks out his keyolin to double stop and create the sound of a string section.

It’s probably the pianist’s home invention that produces the flute-like string parts on “De Ford”, Moore’s tribute to harmonica whiz De Ford Bailey. Then, appropriately enough, as the strings mesh, the reedman detaches the mouthpiece from his clarinet and begins whistling through it, producing a spirit-like harmonica sound. Outside of the billy-goat whinnies the black stick produces a few times elsewhere, it’s probably the oddest inflection he gets from his instrument and shows just how dissonantly he could play, if he wasn’t the voice — or sound — of moderation on this disc.

All of these strands are tied together in Honsinger’s “Ladida”. A compendium of sounds and effects, it starts with a dark, reed-biting bleat from the clarinet, that subsides into glissando trills, while the cellist plucks at his instrument like a bass guitar and the pianist sounds as if he’s tuning his instrument. Soon through, the three are jointly sounding out a gigue-like pastoral melody so realistically that Honsinger conjures up the image of a cartoon violinist in the midst of playing a concerto, all rapt expression and flying curls and coat tails. The theme then downpedals into waltz time, which is just as quickly deconstructed. By the coda Moore is alternately dipping into his chalumeau register or honking like a bar-walking baritone saxist; the cellist creating legit arpeggios upon arpeggios; and Fuhler somehow Scruggs picking on his keyolin.

Looking for chameleon chamber music? You’ve come to the right place.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Train Chords/Spiky-Haired Boy/Mule Standing in Field 2. Participants 3. Air Street 4. Nobody’s Blues 5. Laddida 6. Basket 7. Still Beating 8. Related to Harry 9. De Ford 10. Eyes Fixed 11. Freies Geleit

Personnel: Michael Moore (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, bird calls); Cor Fuhler (piano, keyolin, Hammond organ); Tristan Honsinger (cello)