Alone, Together, Apart
Mutable 17509-2


Anyone familiar with the soundsinging advances improvising vocals like Holland’s Jaap Blonk, Canada’s Paul Dutton and, especially, England’s Phil Minton have mutated in the musical world, might listen to these CDs and say “What hath Minton wrought?” Others, whose idea of vocalists’ improvising barely encompasses Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams — or worse Harry Connick and Norah Jones — may run screaming from the room.

But this isn’t your parents’ — or Smooth Jazz radio’s — vocalese and the German Mitch Heinrich and the American Thomas Buckner are as unlike the present crop of radio-friendly, polite rhythm singers as Bill Clinton is from Ronald Reagan. If Reagan, who always seemed to be embalmed even when he was mobile, stood for the old, self-satisfied ways of doing things, then Clinton for all his faults, was interested in new proposals and connecting with many people — sometimes to his detriment.

Heinrich’s and Buckner’s one-on-one relationships are obviously different than Clinton’s. Yet, on these CDs, they offer a modernistic definition of a vocalist —someone who duets and cooperates with an instrumentalist — not as someone who Reaganesquely sees his role as being elevated above other music makers.

A classically trained vocalist, Buckner has been experimenting with creative voice techniques in improvisational settings for more than 30 years. Internationally known for his leading roles in many of Robert Ashley’s operas, he often works with collaborators from the so-called legit and so-called jazz worlds including Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros and Roscoe Mitchell, and presents an annual recital at Merkin Concert Hall in New York. His partner on ALONE, TOGETHER is another veteran. Jerome Cooper has impeccable New Thing connections and was a member of the Revolutionary Ensemble in the 1970s. Since then he has concentrated on travelling the world and creating a solo repertoire for percussion.

Born in Wuppertal, one of the capitals of German improvised music— saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and the late bassist Peter Kowald are natives — Heinrich is only 39 and his experience has mostly been with local improvisers. His partner and homeboy here, violinist Christoph Irmer, 45, is more cosmopolitan, having played with a variety of international partners including Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández, American bassist Dominic Duval and Kowald.

Benefiting their senior status, Buckner, using his full-spectrum voice, and Cooper, on a variety of percussion instruments, approach the four spontaneous improvisations with the same aplomb as if they were respectively vocalizing an early music motet or playing a straight jazz tune.

Lead off track, “Evocation”, is obviously the showpiece at nearly 25 minutes. At first, Cooper busies himself with producing sliding tones on a variety of African and African-American percussion instruments as Buckner works his way from tree-top high, choked, counter-tenor tones to rumbling baritone outpourings. Concentrating on the resonating wooden tones of the West Africa balaphone, the percussionist creates a counterline to the singer’s most expressive work. Spilling out syllables that sound like words but are in no language, Buckner’s restrained voice resembles that of a cantor, davening during a synagogue service. But since his syllable elisions adds bent blue notes to a cantor’s usual singsong delivery it would seem to be a synagogue that’s situated within an African American community. Finally, with Cooper hitting the ride cymbal for emphasis, Buckner produces a yawning, modified growl that also echoes the sound of ebb tide.

“Return” include a verbal bow to traditional scat singing when Buckner’s syllables work to amplify and modify talking drum patterns. Earlier, the tonal rhythmic activator creates contours when his voice takes on Native American, shamanistic qualities, followed by a sort of looping operatic tones, pants and Bronx cheers for emphasis. In response the drummer executes a set of roughs, drags and ratamacues matching the vocal phrasing.

The duo’s work also suggests pygmy chanting, speaking-in-tongues, animal cries and mysterious Indo-European word play on the vocal side, while Cooper flits from sock cymbal to bass drum to electric keyboard used both as electric piano and synthesized strings for more expansion coloration.

More intense than the Americans, Heinrich and Irmer spend some time personifying animal-like sounds, especially on the first and final numbers, which, after all, honor amphibian music making. Still, there are times that the vocalist’s creations suggest that a garrulous parrot, a grunting simian and a crying wolf have added their voices to the frog symphony.

Made up of 11, mostly shorter, tracks, the German improvisers seem to fasten on one tonal quality and exhibit it on each tune. One track, for instance, pitches the arch of a laugh from a throat snarl up into a high-pitched chortle with accompaniment from a rasping glissando, first on the lower-toned violin strings, then upwards to flying saucer launching sounds. Another track ties snorts, snarls and yapping mouth percussion into a neat package with squealing fiddle tympani. A third is one long, circular-breathed retching tone that meets banjo-like heavy-thumbed pizzicato strums; while a fourth contrasts speedy, nasal repeated four-syllable snorts, coughs and hiccups with the bow dragged across the fiddle’s bottom strings as if it was made of metal not horsehair.

“B, u, d, h, a,” sounds like a bow to Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys of the 1920s as scratchy violin buzzes and rubs ascend in volume while Heinrich scats out some gimmicky bubbling tones. “Easytronic”, the longest piece is more modern, with Irmer’s bow creating sounds as if a subway train with steel wheels was entering the station and splitting the violin asunder. Meanwhile, Heinrich rolls, growls and blows out spittle, until a cappella, he chortles out a series of guttural tones that seem particular jazz-like, only to have them followed by morning rooster crows and heavy breathing.

Neo-cons in all branches of music insist that there’s only one proper way to create, even when it comes to vocalese. These two discs prove irrefutably that they’re wrong. With varied accompaniment, the vocalizers show that what comes out of a performers’ mouth can be stylistically different as well as equally valid.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Alone: 1. Evocation 2. Journey 3. Return 4. All Out

Personnel: Alone: Jerome Cooper (tonal rhythmic activator, bass drum, dumbeck, sock cymbal, cymbals, bowed cymbals, African balaphone, floor tom-tom, keyboard, drumset, talking drum); Thomas Buckner (full spectrum voice)

Track Listing: Frog: 1. Froschgesänge 2 2. B, u, d, h, a, 3. Aufblähen 4. Fosters Echte 5. Transrapid 6. Gemeinsame Interessen 7. Moonmoonshanghaibaby 8. King X 9. I-ding 10. Easytronic 11. Froschgesänge Einst

Personnel: Frog: Mitch Heinrich (voice sounds); Christoph Irmer (violin)