At Les Instants Chavirés
psi 02.06

2 of 2
SOFA 510

Two expressions from the language of romance and relationships may be appropriate when discussing the music on these two CDs which feature British bassist Barry Guy.

It’s said that after they live together for some time, a married couple starts to resemble one another. Expanding that thesis, you may note on the exemplary live disc recorded in Paris, that after more than two decades of working together Guy, saxophonist Evan Parker and percussionist Paul Lytton sometimes use strategies in their own improvisations that were initially developed by another member of the trio.

Another romantic maxim is that once soul mates meet for the first time, they find that they’re acting as if they have always been together. Stripping the sexual innuendo from that statement, it accurately describes Guy’s first time meeting with the Norwegian improvising trio Tri-Dim. Featured on two tracks on 2 OF 2, he fits the band’s groove to such an extent that it sounds as if he has always been part of it.

Recorded at the Paris club Les Instants Chavirés direct to DAT in late 1997 when the technique was still risky, the first CD includes one truncated track when the equipment capsized. Despite this, the session is probably as good as anything the three have recorded in the past.

Matrimonial-style resemblance is most apparent on the final track. Among the notes sprayed from Parker’s saxophone and the press rolls and cymbal slides Lytton produces, the bassist produces some stop-time strummed pizzicato work akin to the speedy squeals of circular breathing that Parker creates a few minutes before on “Three-legged chicken (for Vernon)”, the disc’s more than 38½-minute tour de force.

Additionally, that tune demonstrates the triptych-like interaction and connection of the trio. As attuned to one another’s strengths and techniques as members of the Modern Jazz Quartet or Budapest String Quartet were after their long tenure together, each one can make a movement that will call up the appropriate response from the other(s). That doesn’t mean, however, that there is usually one soloist and two accompanists, but rather three men following singular paths that happen to intersect at crucial junctures. Concentrate on pursuing the sound from any one of the three and you’ll hear something musically worthwhile on its own.

Enlivened with piglet-like squeals, phrases roll from Parker’s tenor saxophone, alternately allegro and andante, sometimes leading to his almost patented style of circular breathing, elsewhere vibrating with simple chirps. Mewling, he produces an augmented echo at spots, and creates enough tongue slaps and key pops to appear to be duetting with himself. Abstraction for its own sake isn’t any part of this, though. At times he puts aside triple tonguing and split tones to refract a series of tiny whole notes that are almost mainstream, in the non-neo-con sense of course. On other tracks, some of his sharper notes could replicate Sonny Rollins’ 1950s style.

Occupied as a squirrel in autumn, the percussionist’s version of circular breathing involves working, sounding, testing and manipulating many parts of his extended kit. Parker’s harsh overblowing is mated with bass drum pedal rattles, while Guy’s ascending and descending string squeaks are commented upon with a mallet-driven ping from the ride cymbal. Lytton may use flams and rolls, but he’s as apt to produce a bell-like sound from his so-called little instruments if that’s more generic to the sound field.

Guy not only expresses himself pizzicato — sometimes sounding like a guitar — and arco, but it sounds as if he’s vibrating one or several sticks placed horizontally and strategically between the strings. To mix metaphors — or suggest perhaps incompatible vocations — he’s both sculptor and a laborer in concrete, fabricating the mixture that solidifies the bottom of the piece, while leaping up into mid register and higher to sculpt figurines that complement Parker and Lytton’s creations.

Brimming with the instantly identifiable Parker/Guy/Lytton sound — as are the other tracks — “Three-legged chicken …” suspends time to such an extent that nearly 39 minutes appears to pass like five.

Another fleet, but lengthy piece, at more than 27½-minutes, is one of two tracks on the other CD on which Guy joins Tri-Dim; the other follows immediately afterwards. Untitled like all the other numbers on 2 OF 2, it finds Guy subsumed within the band to such an extent that he’s almost invisible. Recorded at the Molde Jazz Festival in 2001, there’s certainly no feeling about the performance that a so-called improv star is sitting in with a local combo.

Then again the Scandinavians have the potential to eventually be compared to Parker/Guy/Lytton sometime in the future. Actually Swedish, guitar David Stackenäs has also worked in some of Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson’s larger projects and recorded with American woodwind player Ken Vandermark. As for the Norwegians, both saxophonist Håkon Kornstad and percussionist Ingar Zach are part of No Spaghetti Edition, a shifting group of improvisers. Kornstad has recorded mainstream and experimental discs under his own name, while Zach has also recorded with British guitarist Derek Bailey.

As a matter of fact, it’s the percussionist’s on the mark, gong-like cymbal tones here and elsewhere that give many of the instant compositions their shape(s). As effortlessly industrious as Lytton is on the other CD, Zach always seems to be hitting some part of his kit, producing a shuffle rhythm with his toms, vibrating varied tones from his drum tops or somehow making sounds that could come from an alarm clock.

Guy is most prominent at the beginning of the tune, where his high-string arco work — perhaps due to his long association with Maya Homburger — sounds as if it was coming from a violin. Other times he seems to be pulling notes from the very top of the string set about where the strings meet the tuning pegs. Stackenäs makes his point with flat picking, while Kornstad comes out with some growling split reed work and key pops plus producing a rhythmic percussive tone.

Soon the four break into double duos — the two string players make up one; the saxophonist and drummer the other. Considering the unconventional technique both exhibit, the listener can be excused for not being able to ascribe certain tones to either the guitar or bass — six or four steel strings vibrate in close proximity. Squeaking up his strings, Guy squeezes out some distinctive tones with his fingers, while Stackenäs —alternately tormenting and caressing his axe — scratches out disjointed melodies on his frets and bridge as well the strings. The other duo involves the saxman flutter tonguing or spewing out line after line of high frequency tones. When Kornstad slipslides into another key, turning his arpeggios into cadenzas, Zach firmly, but almost tenderly pops shimmers from his small cymbals and jounces quivers from his drum heads.

An extension of all this, the final selection is quieter, featuring flailing guitar chords meeting an unvarying bass line. Meanwhile, a Nordic style flute sound gradually gets loud enough to mix with Zach’s reverberating drum skin motions or vibes-like tones.

On their own, on the first track, recorded a year later at Oslo’s Blå, the trio of Scandinavians show they’re perfectly capable of creating nearly 19 minutes of impressive excitement on their own. Kornstad moves to the front, squalling out Parker-derived ghostly tongue slaps, spits and rolling trills with an irregular vibrato. Stackenäs weighs in with asymmetric, single note flat picking, while Zach introduces what seems to be sepulchral tones from unselected cymbals, on their own or placed on top of the ride variety; triangle pings and rhythm produced by drum sticks alone plus odd, unconnected drum patterns. Finally buzzing reed cadenzas dissolve into white noise.

2 OF 2’s one misstep involves the remaining track, remixed by Jim O’Rourke of avant-rock band Sonic Youth. A few seconds of crashing guitar chords soon vanish into many minutes of extended Cagean silence. Eventually droning guitar and sax sound are audible, meshed with an otherworldly melisma of reverberating electronics and what appears to be the rumble of a backwards running tape. Purportedly O’Rourke remixed using some of Tri-Dim’s unreleased material, but the result appears to be more about his skills than the band’s. Maybe it would sound better on another CD with similar data.

Reprogram your CD player to miss this track if you wish, the rest will give you an unmatched glimpse into modern Scandinavian improvisations played by musicians who will likely be the pacesetters of this century.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Chavirés: 1. Montreuil motion 2. Asp irate 3. Three-legged chicken (for Vernon) 4. In which the moment capsizes 5. Jean-Marc rights the boat

Personnel: Chavirés: Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Barry Guy (bass); Paul Lytton (percussion)

Track Listing: Tri- Dim: 1. 18.42 2. 12.39+ 3. 27.34* 4. 8.27*

Personnel: Tri-Dim: Håkon Kornstad (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute): David Stackenäs (guitar); Barry Guy (bass)*; Ingar Zach (percussion); Jim O’Rourke (remix)+