Principle Hope
Sublingual SLR012

Given added poignancy by the sudden death of German bassist Peter Kowald in late September PRINCIPLE HOPE shouldn’t be heard as a celebratory memorial. Rather this CD, recorded a year-and-half before the bassist’s fatal heart attack is notable as a once in a lifetime meeting between a quartet of simpatico improvisers separated only by accidents of age, race and citizenship.

Kowald, who had been one of the most important German free improvisers ever since he first recorded with tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann in the late 1960s, also had long time associations with other Continental musicians like Swiss drummer Pierre Favre, British saxophonist Evan Parker and membership in pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra. A frequent visitor to the United States his Yank playing partners ranged from veteran saxophonist Fred Anderson and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith to young fellow bassist Damon Smith.

It’s probably appropriate then that one of his associates here is young Boston-based violinist Jonathan LaMaster. Guiding force behind the Saturnalia String Trio, LaMaster has written for film and dance groups, recorded with multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter among others and even backed up former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki on tour. Carter, one of New York’s free jazz heroes, seems to be equally proficient on trumpet, flute and most woodwinds. He’s also part of co-op bands like TEST with saxophonist Sabir Mateen and Other Dimensions in Music with bassist William Parker. Undeservedly the least known member of this quartet, Boston drummer Laurence Cook is a late first-generation free improviser. In the 1960s and 1970s he recorded with primary New Thingers like bassist Alan Silva, pianists Paul Bley and trumpeter Bill Dixon. More recently he’s played with saxophonists like Mateen and Jameel Moondoc.

Despite the free improv lineage, there’s no nostalgia for an earlier time on this disc. In fact, the final track is a concert recording where the quartet’s sound is processed in real time by Keith Fullerton Whitman. Plus the CD also includes Windows or Apple readable biographical information and a concert video.

Futurism mixes with shamanstic traditionalism here, as on “A Prayer in the Universal Language”. An invocative drone piece with a flute underpinning, it features Kowald powerfully stroking the nether regions of his bass while gutturally muttering into the instrument itself bringing a Native Indian sound to the program. Cook contributes hand drumming that also approximates Aboriginal rhythms, while LaMaster pushes forward arco violin portamento.

Seemingly preferring brushes to other noise makers, Cook allows the balladic “M.S. Darling” to proceed at its proper pace and volume, exhibited through LaMaster’s higher strings and Kowald’s lower ones, often doubled or tripled, sometimes matched with Carter’s alto. This same meshing of strings and horns appears on “The Many and the Few”, though here it includes immediately-identifiable strum, pluck and buzzing from Kowald, this side of out-of-tuneness from LaMaster pizzicato and a delicate Harmon muted trumpet solo of Carter’s.

Not that everything is all seriousness, though. The violinist sometimes saws away like a combination of Billy Bang and Jean-Luc Ponty — 1960s jazz improviser Ponty that is — while despite its French title “Danse de la Liberté” bassist and fiddler make the tune sound like Western swing not a French cabaret ditty. Carter lets loose on that piece after a while, producing a double-tonguing screeching tenor sax line.

The reedist’s flexibility is highlighted even more on “Schöne Töne” where his clarinet duets with the bass. Starting in the coloratura register, his timbre ascends, often producing some near-legit resonance as Kowald’s sweeping arco concocts tones and overtones from his steady line.

LaMaster and Cook have their do-see-do on “Atlantis by Sine Wave”, which appears to use electronics and an electric violin. Underlying the mixture of futurism and primitivism that illuminates the disc, the shimmering string wah wahs resemble extraterrestrial radio signals, while the uniform cymbal timbre is eventually succeeded by Cook banging a cowbell so that it sounds like the signal at a railroad grade crossing.

Honor Kowald and appreciate the fine work of all four men on this disc.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Awakening 2. Spirit Of Hope 3. New Flakes on Dirty Snow 4. M.S. Darling 5. Danse de la Liberté 6. Schöne Töne 7. The Many and the Few 8. Atlantis by Sine Wave 9. Weight of the World 10. A Prayer in the Universal Language 11.Live at the Tremont Theatre (Edit)*

Personnel: Daniel Carter (alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, flute); Jonathan LaMaster (violin, electric 6-string violin); Peter Kowald (bass); Laurence Cook (drums, electronic percussion; Keith Fullerton Whitman (real-time audio processing*); [track 6: Carter/Kowald only]; track 8: LaMaster/Cook only]