DAVID GRUBBS & MATS GUSTAFSSON

Off-Road
Blue Chopsticks BC 11

KEITH ROWE/MICHEL DONEDA/URS LEIMGRUBER The Difference Between a Fish
Potlatch P302

Differences between noise and resonance, silence and stillness are explored on these recent examples of EuroImprov. Coming from either side of the quiet/discord continuum, the CDs manage to prove that each auditory position is as legitimate as the other. It just depends how the sound atoms are manipulated.

On OFF-ROAD Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson, a master of the post-Ayler shrieks hooks up with American post-rock instrumentalist David Grubbs and — on three tracks — countryman turntablist Henry Moore Selder to produce noise essays bisected with quiet paragraphs. THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A FISH showcases degrees of stillness and freak intonation produced by British guitar and electronics manipulator Keith Rowe, French soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda and Swiss-born, Paris-domiciled Urs Leimgruber on soprano and tenor saxophones

Only 33 1/3 (sic) minutes long spread over six tracks, the Grubbs/Gustafsson disc is a far cry from the saxman’s Free Jazz excursions with the AALY trio and Gush. At the same time it also offers up myriad colors, unlike the static improv of the duo’s previous recorded meeting.

Characteristically clangorous on “Rendezvous Up North”, Gustafsson at first unleashes a circus ring full of multiphonics, overblowing and false fingering then subsiding into contact mic-amplified growling tones, abrasive scratches and squeals. The calming force appears to be the steady drone of Grubbs’ harmonium that among its crescendos and diminuendos finally reveals itself as a keyboard. Lungfulls of reed breathing can be heard along with the scratch of metal on metal, likely caused by a clip-on mic.

From the opposite side of the soundfield, “Skiing + Shooting” mixes what appears to be the murmur of the saxist’s voice amplified through his saxophone body with turntable rumble and sampled snatches of male and female voices. Until the track comes to the end with the sound of an LP being pushed backwards into shrieking shrills, Gustafsson has occupied himself producing echoing overtones — but no notes — from his horn as someone replicates a dog’s wheezing.

Selder, who also plays with the saxman in the group Djustable, displays his rhythmic talents on tunes like “Pumpkin Creek”, where his Jerome Green-style maracas provide the beat that binds Grubbs’ folk-style guitar strumming and the thin sounds from Gustafsson’s primitive, six-holed flageolet. At times the overall feel can be compared to recordings featuring Jozef Van Wissem of the Netherlands, who uses his 10-course Renaissance lute mixed with electronics and percussion for decidedly POMO ends.

Particular tones give sections a definite Carnatic cast with tabla intimations, others use tone-arm rumble plus rudimentary synthesizer rhythms and computer static drone to suggest inert ritualistic themes. Sampled snatches of pre-recorded, 18th century symphonies may appear on “Back Off”, mixing in up with harmonium-created overtones, elongated reed biting, ghost notes and squawks. Yet the perspicacious listener will hear from the three experimenters the same sort of techniques and musicianship in the service of pure sound that the dead, white, so-called classical composers brought to their works.

Using a narrower sonic palate, THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A FISH, is mostly concerned with variations in soprano saxophone intonation and emissions. The highest-pitched of the saxophone family is sometimes called a fish horn. However, this CD, recorded both live and in a radio studio, is about as far from the jazz traditional of a saxophone duel à la Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons as you can imagine.

Protagonists are two of the most experimental European reedmen. Although Leimgruber has played modern jazz on occasion, his commitment is to avant sounds in the company of, among others, French bassist Joëlle Léandre and Swiss drummer Fritz Hauser. Doneda, who, it seems, has never been tempted by the mainstream, lines up fully in the experimental camp with such associates as French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh and Basque vocalist Beñat Achiary.

Canny second here Rowe, a charter member of AMM, is an old hand at using his tabletop guitar and electronics to both cushion and goad saxophone performances. Another of his longtime affinities has been with British reed man Evan Parker, whose extended techniques, especially when it comes to circular breathing are as generic to current saxophone styles as Thomas Edison’s work was to the light bulb.

“The Third Part” which, oddly enough, was recorded more than a year before “The First Part”, recalculates the equation in a way, since Leimgruber brings out his tenor several times. He rolls out vibrating sibilate tones of different intensity, while the soprano harvests an unvarying drone. Nutcracker snaps bisect the crackles and twists from Rowe’s electronics, especially after near silent whistles and tongue slaps succeed Bronx cheers from the horns. Later, after near inaudible, darker, ghostly tones have taken hold of the piece, it’s brought to a livelier conclusion with metal tunnel spetrofluctuation, squeaks and circular breathing.

All of these reed, mouthpiece and key techniques are on show on “The First Part” as is altissimo overblowing, squeaky, raspberry-like split tones and volume swelling chirps that could be painful for more than those with tinnitus. Reconfiguring his tones into a large buzzing ball of electronics, the guitarist guides the trio to separate each tone. One saxophone (Doneda?) yields vibrating slurs at top of his range, while the other creates lower-pitched, unvarying overtones. Ending his conveyer belt-like pulsations, Rowe appears to be banging his palms on open guitar strings to help transform the reed peeps and twitters into identifiable saxophone sounds, then silence.

Not for everyone, both of these discs will have a strong appeal to anyone who has followed the work of any of the musicians involved. In addition, if you’re an adventurous sort whose watchword is the old Monty Python title: “and now for something completely different”, you’ll find much to impress you here as well.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Off-Road: 1. Rendezvous Up North 2. Dystoipian Turboprop 3. Pumpkin Creek* 4. Three If By Train* 5. Skiing + Shooting* 6. Back Off

Personnel: Off-Road: Mats Gustafsson (fluteophone, tenor saxophone, flageolet, synthesizers, contact mics); David Grubbs (computer, guitar, harmonium); Henry Moore Selder* (turntable, maracas)

Track Listing: Difference: 1. The First Part 2. The Third Part

Personnel: Difference: Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone); Urs Leimgruber (soprano and tenor saxophones); Keith Rowe (guitar, electronics)