Clean Feed CF006 CD

As with any empirical formula, changing one part of a musical equation can result in a completely different outcome. Compare John Coltrane’s quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano to the one with Alice Coltrane on piano for instance. Or think of how different the Modern Jazz Quartet sounded with Connie Kay instead of Kenny Clarke on drums.

Portuguese total improv ensemble, Telectu, has done something like that on this three-CD set. Together for more than 20 years Telectu’s guiding duo — pianist Jorge Lima Barreto and guitarist Vìtor Rua — have over the years adapted variation of electronica, minimalism, musique concrète, art rock and lounge jazz to its improv foundation, collaborating with musicians such as experimental American guitarist Elliott Sharp and French clarinetist Louis Sclavis. Recently, despite side projects in theatre works and poetry, the band has become more acoustic, especially when Rua’s self-designed 18-string guitar is put into play. British soprano saxophonist Tom Chant has been the third Telectuan since 1990.

However, the idea behind the live concerts on QUARTETOS seemed to be to “make it new” by changing the drummer each time out. Thus venerable American New Thing drummer Sunny Murray is one disc one, British improv pioneer, percussionist Eddie Prévost is on disc two, and American drummer Gerry Hemingway is on disc three. Happily, although each offers an astute rhythmic variation to the proceedings, Telectu’s group identity is strong enough so that the results aren’t that dissimilar from disc to disc.

Although it’s instructive to compare each performance to one another, don’t try listening to the set all at once. Almost three hours of music is more than anyone can take in a single sitting. Instead relish each singly.

Interesting enough, it’s Hemingway who seems to get the three Telectu members thinking along different lines. During the course of that 56-minute performance Barreto suddenly appears to be working in straight lines, adapting a variation of 20th century classical piano music to his output, while Chant’s bird-like soprano cackles are sometimes met with the keyboardist’s expressive left hand decorations as well as delicate brush work on the toms, cymbal and snare. Harp-like glissandos issue from Rua’s 18-string contraption, which is also where some unclassifiable tones arise as well. Finally, novel textures and exaggerated densities are introduced to the sound picture by Rua’s judicious use of electronics.

Issuing wild fowl quacks, tongue slaps, rolling chirps and reverberated tones from within his horn, Chant is partnered by the drummer’s percussion scraping, Afro-Cuban intimations and a point where it seems objects are rolling on the snare and toms. Three-quarters of the way through Rua’s waterfall-like string patterns the intensity rises as he begins pulling on his strings with bodybuilder’s strength. Barreto works his way around the piano keyboard, probably investigating the timbres created by forearm pressure, and brings the sustain pedal into play. Bass drum resonance issues from Hemingway, while Chant varies his lines with obtuse, unconnected reed abstractions. Eventually, after it seems as if the drummer has unleashed a suitcase full of whirring mechanized objects, the pianist, whose playing has been understated before this begins creating modified, Iberian boogie woogie-like walking basses. Soon the soprano sax hits its high-pitched false register, and, as Chant slurs out accents, Hemingway exercises his hi-hat and sizzle cymbals and Rua provides lacerated comments from both his instruments.

Bonded to his loose-limbed style of 40 years, Murray is the most extruding of the drummers. During the nearly 61 minutes that make up his Portuguese connection, he takes more solos than the other two percussionists combined, including one right at the top of the piece. Although 21st century modernity is present in miscellaneous electronic crackles, guitarharp glissandos and some bubbling chirps from Chant’s soprano, Murray, unimpressed, sticks to his own drum-and-dab style. At times, in fact, it appears as if he’s trying to put Barreto and Chant into the Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons roles that he was familiar with from his tenure with that pianist’s band.

One-third of the way through, Chant’s soft peeping tones, Barreto’s high-intensity piano chords plus accelerated yanks on Rua’s 18 strings at last push Murray’s rumbling drum beats in the same direction as the others. Operating on all cylinders, the drummer sounds out rolls, roughs and drags, Barreto hits the keyboard with more force and Chant creates some trilling, penny whistle tones.

Eventually the program become more impassioned, as the pianist formulates a fantasia of tremolo runs; somehow Rua replicates what could be an electric bass part; and the saxist tries speedy tongue slaps, rolling split tones and circular breathing exercises. Somehow Murray is pushed into a more restrained, almost EuroImprov state of mind and execution.

Not that there’s much comparison between his Murray’s style and that of Prévost, one of the creators of the EuroImprov genre. Prévost, in whose trio Chant also plays, initially finesses his oversized snare and undersized cymbals in such a way that Barreto begins taking on the understated persona of pianist John Tilbury the drummer’s AMM playing partner. Keyboard expression then slackens, and Rua appears to be affected by the same creeping malaise, underscoring his output to such an extent that he starts to sound like an enervated Harpo Marx.

Luckily, before all individuality is lost, Prévost’s distinctively scraping chains on his drumheads awaken the others to their individual roles. Chant’s output starts to mix what sounds like balloon inflation with squeaks and wiggles; Barreto trifles with straight jazz time; and Rua — plus electronics — comes up with the subtle voicing of oddball sonics. As the reedist turns from multiphonics to a concentrated line that arches over the other sounds, the drummer bisects all this with anvil-like hits on his kit. The pianist turns to circular sound patterns and Prévost responds with scrapes, scratches and rolling tidal wave like movements. Adagio, the 52-minute performance wraps up with guitar-like plucks from Rua; a harder and more stressed pitch from Barreto; whistling reed tones from Chant and a single, clear cymbal touch from the drummer.

Like a proper Iberian meal, each course of this set should be savored for its sensations and flavor before going on to the next. That way QUARTETOS will provide a nourishing and succulent musical repast.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. With Sunny Murray CD2: 1. With Eddie Prévost CD3: 1. With Gerry Hemingway

Personnel: Tom Chant (soprano saxophone) Jorge Lima Barreto (piano, prepared piano); Vìtor Rua (18-string guitar, electronics); Sunny Murray~ or Eddie Prévost* or Gerry Hemingway+ (drums)