ANDREA CENTAZZO/MITTELEUROPA ORCHESTRA

Live
Felmay/NewTone Records RDC 5047 2

PIERLUIGI BILLONE/KLANGFORUM WIEN/JOHANNES KALITZKE
Mani.long
DURIAN 019-2

Known in his native Italy and most of Europe as a composer who has written symphonies and lyric operas as well as scores for feature films, theatre productions, and multi-media efforts, Andrea Centazzo also has a history playing with international improvisers.

For about 15 years from the mid-1970s, as a percussionist, Centazzo recorded in different settings with such experimenters as saxophonists Steve Lacy and Evan Parker, guitarists Eugene Chadbourne and Derek Bailey and cellist Tom Cora. A series of discs was released on his own Ictus imprint, including most of the tracks found here with this large band. Organized as sort of a last hurrah by the composer to bring together acknowledged master improvisers and emerging talents, The Mitteleuropa Orchestra lasted from 1980 to 1990, after which writing became Centazzo’s primary focus.

The first four tracks on this exultant CD are a reissue in toto of a live concert given in Bologna in 1980 by a 13-piece version of the band. The final two, previously unreleased, tracks from 1983 in Vienna feature a 26-piece orchestra, including a beefed up string section, interpreting two other Centazzo compositions under the composer’s baton. The fifth track was later rearranged for symphony orchestra and recorded in 1993.

That action should give you a clue as to why, although everything on the CD is choice, the 1980 compositions seem more exciting. Turning from being an improviser/player/composer like Duke Ellington or Charles Mingus to a score paper composer, the percussionist seems to have accepted the conventions of so-called serious music. Except for the soloists, who are improvisers in their own right, the 1983 ensemble lacks the excitement of the 1980 band.

Flash forward 20 years or so and you find Klangforum Wien performing written percussion music by Milan-born Pierluigi Billone, composer in residence at the Hamburg State opera. Although his studies in classical guitar, chamber music and, composition didn’t seem to include exposure to Centazzo’s oeuvre, one would think he heard the Mitteleuropa Orchestra at one point. MANI.LONG, a percussion-driven piece played exemplarily by Klangforum Wien, definitely seems to relate to Centazzo’s later, more overly “classical” works.

Because of the experiments of Centazzo and other improvisers, this percussion and reed-driven way of approaching composition has entered into the lingua franca of most European composers. Musicians today also move back and forth more between composed, improvised and electronic genres. A few are represented in the Klangforum, most notably bassist Uli Fussenegger, who also produced this session. He has recorded with fellow bassist and Polwechsel leader Werner Dafeldecker and turntablist Dieter Kovacic.

Bologna’s Mitteleuropa Orchestra brought energy to Centazzo’s favorite stylist sensibilities with fluid timbres and chromatic nuances. At the same time, it’s interesting to note how the group sound and solo sections presage some of the ideas that would be expressed in such contemporary large scale ensembles as the Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO). Unlike the more anarchistic Globe Unity or ICP Orchestras though, Centazzo’s composerly hand makes sure each piece has a definite beginning, end and middle.

One fascination is to hear how different — or similar — contemporary improvisers sounded 20 years ago. For instance, on “Musica Schema #1”, which seems to encompass what sound like ascending kettledrum tones mixed with a theme that could have been arranged by Gil Evans for MILES AHEAD, Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro lets loose with a frenzied double and triple-stopped solo that sounds a lot more like what Jean-Luc Ponty or Jerry Goodman were doing at that time than the sort of abrasive, diffident, electronic-influenced sounds he plays now. Double stopping so that more than one string sounds at a time, his classical training shows when he heads into the highest register without muddying his tone. Some Andalusian gypsy fire makes itself felt there as well.

Zingaro is surprisingly swinging on “Chirimia”, in contrast to the massed, atonal xylophone, vibraharp, bells and other miscellaneous percussion that make appearances here as a pliant pulse track. So do screaming multiphonics from one of the saxophone players. Someone — likely Centazzo himself — produces some jazz licks on what appears to be a small, tuned drum after tenor saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano expresses a Continental homage to John Coltrane. Another tremendous shock is to hear trumpeters Enrico Rava and Franz Koglmann trade fours. Rava who was midway between the avant- garde style he used with Lacy and his present Romantic persona probably never sounded more conventional. While Koglmann, the Austrian brass man who has made a virtue of a restrained, withdrawn, semi-classical tone, has never sounded more so-called jazzy.

“First Environment (For Orchestra)”, which seems to feature all 13 musicians playing simultaneously, sounds almost completely notated. Here too, though the variegated percussion tones foreshadow both the rhythmic tone of Anthony Braxton’s later Ghost Trance music and the IIO tune built around a struck anvil. In between those tutti motifs, Sauro D’Angelo play a tender, but squeaking, clarinet part, and it’s likely Rava who soars Maynard Ferguson-like over the band at the end.

Rava’s then-newfound brassiness is put to good use on “Third Environment (For Orchestra)” where his shaking tones and tongue raspberries turn to staccato shots on top of a World-Saxophone-Quartet-meets-The-Four-Brothers sax line. Elsewhere the sax sections smears out unison multiphonics that are so solid they could be playing Dixieland. Gianluigi Trovesi, sounding very much as he does today has a face off on bass clarinet with either a clarinetist or one of the soprano saxists. Finally, as the rest of the band fades the theme diminuendo, kettledrums reprise marital march music.

Percussion is on full display on the final two compositions, with what sounds like marimba and xylophone most prominent. But the string section of 13 drags the proceedings down, making the group not so much swing as lumber. A lot of what’s played appears to be awfully close to Centazzo’s future musing as a contemporary classical or soundtrack composer. There is some hint of a tarantella at the top, though with everyone but the reeds on slow boil. Later some of the woodwinds — likely Carlos Actis Dato on resonating baritone saxophone, Trovesi and Ottaviano in altissimo range — toss scads of note shards around. And mid way through, it’s probably Koglmann who creates some muted trumpet grace notes.

Located like those final two Mitteleuropa Orchestra tracks in Koglmann’s home town of Vienna, Klangforum Wien, conducted by Cologne-native Johannes Kalitzke acquits itself splendidly on MANI.LONG. Plus, unlike the sometime muddy recording from the other CD’s live dates, this one is clear and sharp.

Someone whose work is regular broadcast on European radio and performed by ensembles such as Ensemble Contrechamps, Ensemble Intercontemorain, Ensemble Recherche and the WDR Orchester, Billone uses as many interlocking percussion tones here as Centazzo does on his composition. Luckily there are four stick and mallet men on hand to do duty here. They have their hands full with among others instruments, bells, vibes, glockenspiel, marimba, hand drums and other various and sundry percussion. At times it also appears as if the implements are being scratched and banged as well as hit, adding up to some strident textures. Alternately, at points, it sounds as if pool cues and pool balls are being rolled on the ground.

One surprise is that, although given 12 individual titles in the liner notes, the composition instead unrolls as an interrupted, more-than-45-minute chamber piece. The other surprise is that, at least at the beginning, the two violins, one viola and two cellists get very little to do besides provide background sounds. Instead, along with the reverberations from the percussionists, the shape of the piece, as in many jazz/improv numbers, comes from the reed section. Massed, they produce air horn-like atonal reverberations throughout.

Often however alto saxophonist Gerald Preinfalk produces a phrase-shifting elongated tone not unlike what John Butcher would create on his own or with Polwechsel. Plus one of the bass clarinetists — Bernhard Zachhuber or Ernesto Molinari — appears to be able to vibrate a mechanized drone that you would more expect in the improv world than in the so-called classical one. There are even some tones produced from trilling vibrating and abused strings — there’s a piano or celeste on site as well — so that the Klangforum appears to be heading into electro-acoustic territory.

Besides some sections which are intentionally inaudible there are several where the ensemble combines for tumultuous, shaking multiphonics that could be at home in a Sun Ra composition. There’s even a long, blaring portion near the end, which is all smashed percussion, extended reed trills, and high-pitched, shouted vocal asides. Guess if “Mani.long” ever made it to a North American concert hall there would be plenty of walkouts. This isn’t your father’s chamber music. Unless he’s named Centazzo, that is.

As contemporary written music, the Klangforum performance tops Centazzo’s 1983 performance. But as far as improvised music goes, the Mitteleuropa Orchestra comes out with the crown. However both discs could be investigated by anyone who is serious about following music of today — written or improvised.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Chirimia 2. First Environment (For Orchestra) 3. Musica Schema #1 4. Third Environment (For Orchestra) 5. Cjant: VI Movement 6. Chant: Movement

Personnel: Live: [1- 4]: Enrico Rava (trumpet); Franz Koglmann (flugelhorn, trumpet); Andrea Anzola (French horn); Roberto Manuzzi (soprano and alto saxophones); Sauro D’Angelo (clarinet and alto saxophone); Gianluigi Trovesi (bass clarinet and alto saxophone); Roberto Ottaviano (soprano and tenor and saxophones); Carlos Zingaro (violin); Roberto Bartoli, Stefano Ferri (basses); Bruno Cabassi (xylophone, percussion); Gianpaolo Salbego (vibes, percussion); Andrea Centazzo (drums, percussion, conductor) [5 - 6 ]: Franz Koglmann, Gino Comiso (trumpets); Andrea Anzola, Silvio Stagni (French horns); Carlo Actis Dato, Theo Jorgesmann, Roberto Mannuzzi, Gianluigi Trovesi, Roberto Ottaviano (clarinets and saxophones); Stefanio Bencivenga, Lucianmo Bolzon, Giorgio Fava, Roberto Frisone, Marco Macorigh, Marco Paladin, Mario Paladin (violins); Franca Macuz, Lorenzo Nassimbeni (violas); Luca Fiorentini, Carlo Teodoro (cellos); Franco Feruglio, Federeico Passera (basses); Piero Bertelli, Aurelio Corradini, Guido Vianello, Paolo Zanella (percussion); Andrea Centazzo (conductor)

Track Listing: Mani.long: 1. Mani.Long (hands/ancestors. Richard Long) 2. Ktàxe 3. Kna Ne Ète, Ékeio Still, Eki Sti 4. IxiXill. 5. Stié, Stiéle, Sténe Sti Sti É 6. Mékterene 7. Ini 8. Tméneme Néi Ktàxe 9. Ini 10. Tméneme Eki É, Tixi 11. Kna Ne Ète, Ékeio Still, Eki Sti 12. Istiéle, Énele Xill, Ina Énele Xìli, Ésti Éle

Personnel: Mani.long: Sasa Dragovic (trumpet); Andreas Eberle (trombone); Christoph Walder (French horn); Gerald Preinfalk (alto saxophone); Bernhard Zachhuber (bass clarinet); Ernesto Molinari (bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet); Markus Deuter (oboe and English horn); Lorelei Dowling (bassoon); Anette Bik, Gunde Jäch-micko (violins); Dimitrios Polisoidis (viola); Florian Mueller (piano and celeste); Benedikt Leitner, Andreas Lindenbaum (cellos); Uli Fussenegger (bass); Martin Homann, Pascal Pons, Adam Weisman (percussion); Johannes Kalitzke (conductor)