Ur lamento
Potlatch P202

Melungeon Records MR-0003

Constituting an improvising trio with the double bass the only real rhythmic instrument can be a dangerous strategy. Yet it’s a testimony to aptitude of the players involved in these two discs that neither seems to suffer from this approach.

More pointedly, the American Aoki-Hunsinger-Jarman group and the French Triolid couldn’t be more dissimilar. With personnel that includes two multi-woodwind players plus a bassist, the Yanks end up with a sound that is organic, naturalistic and has non-Western echoes. The Gallic creations are, on the other hand, reserved, mechanized and futuristic. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the second trio is made up of a bassist, a clarinetist and a third musician who moves between theremin and computer.

Both CDs have much to recommend them, but neither is completely satisfying.

Described as “very representative of the French improv scene”, Triolid members have mixed musical histories. Clarinetist Isabelle Duthoit, for instance, has a background in chamber music and opera orchestras, as well as extensive improv experience with the likes of countrymen saxist Michael Doneda and clarinetist Xavier Charles as well as Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies. Self-taught, bassist David Chiesa evolved from playing in rock bands to improvisations with Doneda, Charles, German dancer Fine Kwiatkowski and the Spanish group, Trio Local. Theremin and computer manipulator Laurent Dailleau also began his career with bands such as Pink-Punk. But since then he has played contemporary classical music with a dance company and in improvised settings.

A mini-symphony of elongated tones and drones UR LAMENTO is made-up of nine tunes, most of which revolve around the constant pulse of Chiesa’s bass line. Arco swoops, frontal string attacks with his bow, wood-rendering sounds and the bump and grind of finger burlesque characterize his work. When he appears to be rattling finger cymbals and chains in the final number that almost seems extraneous, since rhythmic properties are impaled on the sounds with his bow.

Mistress of the augmented note and false register whistles and sighs, Duthoit can produce piercing squeaks at one point and what sounds like she’s blowing into a hollow tube at another. Her clarinet hisses for effect on longer pieces and she uses triple tonguing, split tones and flattement to draw out its range. Extended vibrato is also no problem. Despite this, she seems to be making a concerted effort to use vibrations or pure, singular breaths to blend with what the other two produce.

Reed biting and squeaking contralto tones are almost expected in “the French improv scene” and elsewhere, but the reedist indulges in another sonic attack which may be more of an acquired taste. She vocalizes in a manner that ranges between growling, orgasmic moans and screams to piglet-like squeaks. This throat opening style can be related to American ESP-Disk pioneer Patty Waters or perhaps Englishman’s Phil Minton’s sound deconstruction. But Duthoit’s nearest parallel would seem to be Sicilian Miriam Palma of the Terra Arsa trio, whose Wicket Witch of the West vocal eruptions sometimes suggest both horror flicks and dementia. At times appearing to replication the sounds of a small child being abused, Duthoit sounds as if she’s trying to copy with human vocal chords the buzzing tone disconnects computers can produce.

Those articulated squeals and rumbles are the most obvious manifestations from Dailleau’s computer, as are the occasional extraterrestrial sounds that arise from his theremin. Otherwise his contributions are less audible and more elusive. Shape shifting crackles, murmurs and drones courtesy of software come to the foreground than retreat once again. Yet, as well, throughout the disc you sense that that his machines are doubling and extending the acoustic sound, undulating and transforming it in distinctive ways to alter the sound picture.

No electronic manipulation is used on TRIO though, and there’s a lot more breathing room left in the 10 instant compositions. At the same time, both woodwind players show up with a band room full of instruments to fulfill their musical ideas.

Best known of the group is Joseph Jarman, who here plays alto clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, bass flute, alto saxophone, thumb piano, percussion rattle, small Chinese cymbals and handheld cymbal. A founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, he left the band to concentrate on his duties with the Brooklyn Buddhist Association in the early 1990s. Since then, his playing has been more closely aligned with serene, Oriental-oriented music than jazz, free or otherwise, most notably in the Equal Interest Trio he with violinist Leroy Jenkins and keyboardist Myra Melford.

Robbie Lynn Hunsinger, who plays soprano and alto saxophones, silver clarinet, oboe, English horn, shenai (Indian oboe) and sona (Chinese oboe) has a background that encompasses symphony work, electronic sound installation and improv. A Chicago resident like Hunsinger, Japanese-born bassist Tatsu Aoki has played traditional Oriental music, collaborated with jazzmen like saxophonists Fred Anderson and Mwata Bowden and written and performed experimental works like the Miyumi Project which combined both the Asian and improvised traditions.

Here, though, jazz influences are kept to a minimum. About the only time they appear are on “Hornswoggled”, the longest track and “Procession”. On the former Hunsinger’s squealing sona tones backed by the clatter of Jarman’s handheld cymbals give way when she switches to her main axe, oboe, and produces some swaying jazz-like trills. Aoki responds with a full press roll bass part that has him echoing her phrases, then working up and down the strings. By accident, or likely design, his effects are more limited when compared to what Chiesa plays with Triolid. Meanwhile the oboist has produced a reverberating, loose-jointed tone that twists with triple-tongued excitement as she resonates notes. At the same time, Jarman is coloring the proceedings with a percussion rattle that sounds like a bolo bat.

Despite the title, Jarman’s bass clarinet and the bassist combine for a jazzy vamp on the later tune that sounds less like a solemn “Procession” and more like a bouncy Second Line. On top Hunsinger creates squeaks from the sona, whose melodic auto horn tone allows her to play more than one tone at a time. Switching to the shenai, which appears to be a bit off key — at least to Western ears — allows her and the others to come to a climax, snapping out simultaneous notes in three pitches and tones. However “Powerhouse”, which features both reedists on alto saxophones, merely rambles along until the bassist steps in with a solo to centre the piece.

Elsewhere, the improvisations unfold like a brush stroke painting, gradually penciling in detail with different ethnic instruments when needed. If necessary, Aoki can create elevated tones that could make you think he was playing the Biwa, or Japanese lute, while the other trio members provide the percussive bottom. Jarman’s bass clarinet is particular effective this way, though most the time he seems to emphasize its ethereal, legato qualities rather than its accompanist role. On one tune he hums along with the instrument, creating two tones and multiple overtones for additional color.

Other times, when the somewhat uncomfortable sounding non-Western horns are brought into play you’re not sure whether the pitch should be heard as Carnatic or comb-and-tissue paper. Completely innocently, as well, it appears that when played in a certain way the tone of the oboe takes on a snake charmer’s sound. This suggests the worst clichés of Occidental appropriation of non-Western music. Jarman’s introduction of finger cymbals and thumb piano can conjure up the same unpalatable ghosts.

In short, both these trios can be commended for their willingness to experiment — albeit in a completely antithetical manner. Triolid should appeal to Euro experimenters, especially those with a fondness for electronics, and TRIO to those who like their World music mixed with improv.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ur: 1. L’eixample 2. Rose 3. Uccelli 4. Falaises 5. Ghibli 6. Etherfield 7. Lock 8. Coda 2000

Personnel: UR: Isabelle Duthoit (clarinet, voice); David Chiesa (bass, small percussion); Laurent Dailleau (theremin, computer)

Track Listing: Trio: 1. Consequences 2. Larsen B. 3. Cape of Needles 4. Powerhouse 5. LD50 6. Dryad 7. Hornswoggled 8. eye to eye 9. Procession 10. Requiem

Personnel: Trio: Robbie Lynn Hunsinger (soprano and alto saxophones, silver clarinet, oboe, English horn, shenai, sona); Joseph Jarman (alto clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, bass flute, alto saxophone, thumb piano, percussion rattle, small Chinese cymbals, handheld cymbal vocal); Tatsu Aoki (bass)