Chasing Paint
Arabesque AJ0158

White Light
al dante No #

Jackson Pollock was a fan of Dixieland Jazz. Moldy Figs may be aghast to hear that when they consider the swirls, whorls and astringent shapes of his paintings, but oddly enough the rule-breaking abstract expressionist was listening to Classic Jazz and Swing Music when he created his distinctive art works.

Truth is one thing, but when it comes to improvised music, Pollock’s work has always been identified with the most adventurous parts of modern jazz. Nowhere was this made clearer than in 1960, when his painting entitled “White Light” was used on the cover of FREE JAZZ, Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking collective improvisation for double quartet.

In this vein, New York soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has tuned out a post-bop, chamber music session subtitled “meets Jackson Pollock” that expresses her passion for his work. In nine tunes, all but one of which she wrote, she uses the hues available from her instrument’s palate and the color supplied by her sidefolk to sketch an unhurried modern mainstream interpretation of the iconoclastic artist. Her final tune is even entitled “White Light”

Serendipitously, Parisian saxophonist/sampler player Étienne Brunet has named his CD that reinterprets the art of six contemporary visual artists, WHITE LIGHT as well. Yet the seven idiosyncratic pieces on the disc — the last is a homage to influential American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy — definitely won’t be mistaken for Bloom’s.

Commemorating the spontaneity unleashed by Coleman’s conception as much as Pollock’s, these pieces mix found sounds, musique concrète, slabs of rock-blues, reconstituted vocals and machine created nonsense into a unique aural brew à la français.

Bloom, the first musician ever commissioned by the NASA Art Program and someone who has an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union, is a composer whose work is fully informed by classic standards and changes. You can tell that by her honeyed solo rendition of “The Sweetest Sounds”, by Richard Rodgers, who was likely no fan of Pollock’s.

Keeping the proceedings from being too earthbound is her challenge on the other selections, considering that except for some live electronics triggered by her horn, the combo works in the standard soloist and rhythm section format. Luckily, the band which has played together since 1996, includes virtuoso bassist Mark Dresser, whose associations range from drummer Gerry Hemingway to saxist Anthony Braxton; and drummer Bobby Previte who leads his own bands with the likes of reedist Marty Ehrlich on board. Attached as well, she says to “motion-inspired melodic lines for improvisation”, gives scope to pianist Fred Hersch, who brings Bill Evans-like lyricism to his playing.

With the keyboardist’s musings melded with her airy soprano saxophone, many of the pieces are a bit too fragile; they sound as if the band is celebrating Claude Monet’s relaxing impressionism, not Pollock’s abstractions. Weakest is “Many Wonders” with its clichéd, groan-inducing title. Hersch’s classically influenced, proper touch and perfect form, and his crystalline output makes every note sing, but not swing. With a definite beginning, middle and end, the piece almost dissolves into syrup.

Slightly better is the nearly nine-minute first track, “Unexpected Light”, where Bloom’s legato tone and Hersch’s low intensity approach finally work up to some finger-snapping swing. Throughout, however, the pianist always seems as if he’s going to burst into “Someday My Prince Will Come”. Thankfully bowed bass work and brushes sweeping the cymbals keep the end result more outside.

Then there’s the title track, which appears to be a rondo with both saxophone and piano playing circular tones, then literally “chasing” one another. Bloom begins sliding out arpeggios as Hersch and Dresser stay low-key in the background while it’s up to Previte to subtly emphasize countermotifs with asymmetrical cymbal and snare bounces and drags.

More appropriate, considering the subject, is “Jackson Pollock”, which like the man’s paintings evolve from conventional sounds to experimentation. Powerful plucks from the bass and variegated drum patterns encourage Bloom to vary her formerly linear soprano line by attaching the electronic gizmo. Soon, not only is there a Bloom doppelganger, but Dresser is bowing and screeching in violin-range. Still the tune is less than three minutes long, and Hersch seems to be AWOL.

He’s certainly present on the composition that shares its title with Brunet’s CD. On this andante swinger, his oh-so proper form and touch advancing in lockstep with Bloom’s pure tone seem to transpire in a different atelier than the one where Previte’s rolling pulses and Dresser’s scratching abrasions are aiming to meet the mood head on. The saxist does relax enough to finish with haunting electronic drones though.

Finally there’s “Alchemy” that through some magic [sic] finds everyone drawing in the same sketchbook. Dresser begins with literal finger picking as Bloom’s sharp trills mix it up with the highest tones from Hersch’s Steinway. Suddenly, even the piano man becomes incautious as he explores some near-modern classical non equal temperament harmony. Bloom uses her electronics for some out-of-body squeals and the bassist appears to be scraping away the finish on his strings. Previte deliberately fractures the beat making no pretense of time keeping, as the electrically-goosed sax alternately drones and shoots out smears of sound.

There’s no problems finding smears — or any other visual art associated verb — of sound on Brunet’s painterly disc. Writing at one point in the booklet that “like a painter I use accidents and the unexpected for creative ends”, the tracks here were shaped in his home studio. Using an 18-track computer workstation, he stirs together a melange of sampled, real, and pre-recorded sounds and alters the result for a unique end product.

Much different from his last disc, which featured his soprano and alto saxophone improvisations mixed with Belgian Fred Van Hove’s on grand church organs, on this celebration of visual artists, he still manages to reference jazz, funk/rock, French pop and Eastern European ethnic musics. Like Pollock, he’s one of a group of artist forging a new way of defining art; unlike the American painter who finally discovered a distinctive style, Brunet is still refining his methods.

Most of the tracks use the human voice in some way. This may present a problem to those Anglos who are uncomfortable with another language than their own, even though some of the time French used is only as a sampled sound source.

On “Marie-Jo Pilet”, for instance, Brunet recorded the artist reading aloud from love letters, with the result soon played back in reverse. Concurrently he improvises on alto saxophone on top of a real time, sampled electronic drone, with this sound modified by a Moog phaser and a ring modulator. Eventually the calm voice reading the excerpts vanishes into a flux of undulating effects in higher tempos and pitches. Similarly “Julian Blaine” superimposes the voices of four people, including Brunet, reading 15 chapters of Blaine’s “Du sorcier de V. au magicien de M.” layered one on top of the other. Eventually the cadence of the words is transmuted into pure rhythmic effects.

Slightly different is “Ilya Kabakov”, which was inspired by a museum installation dealing with Soviet style and society in the 1950s. Here, as an associate vocalizes the details in six site specific postcards, Brunet intermingles the sound of instrumental Romanian folklore LPs at sharp and almost painful volume, with break beats purloined from a tape recorded by drummer Steve Arguelles.

Two different discs of Thelonious Monk’s rhythmic compositions pass in-and-out of aural focus on “Claude Closky”, along with samples of children singing and discussing everyday activities. Then Jam, a local acid jazz singer, creates a song from “Les mots songe”, the title of Closky’s text.

Even more elaborate is the almost 12-minute “Joschen Gerz”, affiliated in some way with a sound and light extravaganza performed at Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral. (Intentionally?) poorly recorded crowd actualities eventually trade places with a punk rock band, complete with fuzztone guitar, bass and drum, recorded live. After the introduction of what appears to be programmed elctro-acoustic beats, the band singer elaborates the lyrics using a voice that is half chanson and half comatose. Coda is the pop rock song performed by the entire band.

The one track that definitely doesn’t work is “Otto Muelh” that features the artist singing in amateur music hall style and playing what appears to be an out-of-tune upright. Meanwhile his female companion gargles out lyrics that make her sound like a demented Edith Piaf. When Brunet says he superimposed bebop interpretations on top of this to make a sort of Free Jazz, it’s insulting to the genre itself.

If he thinks that is Free Jazz how then does he classify the final and most superior track, a version of Lacy’s “Art” ? Initially recorded by Brunet on soprano saxophone, he then re-recorded it playing bass clarinet on top of the primary version. Ending up with a mechanized drone, at times his inventions and drummer Erick Borelva’s cross sticking provide a shape and features to the melody skeleton by the track’s final two minutes.

Whether WHITE LIGHT is an oh-so-French gimmick or a breakthrough you’ll have to decide for yourself. What it isn’t is the sort of well-played modern mainstream sounds Bloom & Co have produced. It’s experimentation for the sake of experimentation and in this way it may be closer to Pollock’s ideals than the other CD.

-Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Chasing: 1. Unexpected Light 2. Chasing Paint 3. The Sweetest Sounds 4. On Seeing JP 5. Many Wonders 6. Jackson Pollock 7. Alchemy 8. Reflections of the Big Dipper 9. White Light

Personnel: Jane Ira Bloom (soprano saxophone, live electronics); Fred Hersch (piano); Mark Dresser (bass); Bobby Previte (drums)

Track Listing: White: 1.Claude Closky+ 2. Joschen Gerz*^ 3. Julian Blaine 4. Ilya Kabakov% 5. Marie-Jo Pilet@ 6. Otto Muelh# 7. Art (Steve Lacy)&

Personnel: White: Étienne Brunet (soprano and alto@ saxophones, bass clarinet, harmonica* electronics, sampling, voice^, programming and mixing); Otto Muelh (voice and piano)#; Benjamin Ritter (vocals^, guitar)*; Laurent Borelva (guitar, electric bass)*; Erick Borelva (drums)*&; Jam (vocals)+; Emiko Otta (voice)+; Julien Blaine (voice)^; Elisabeth Mazev (voice)^; Pierre Barouh (voice)%; Marie-Jo Pillet (voice)@; Violaine Hirtz (vocals)#; Bertrand Blais (mixing)+; Patrick Muller (sound and mixing)*