In the North
Between the lines btl 026/EFA 10196-2

Accretions ALP-030 CD

Usual and unique treatments of guitar sounds mixed with a forefront brass instrument plus others, characterize these two experimental sessions. Both are a long way from the standard six-string showcases and offer much to attract the truly adventurous. But both have downsides as well, when the apparent need to play something different moves past the exploratory to the self-indulgent.

In one way German guitarist Andreas Willers has a tougher job. IN THE NORTH is a tribute to American composer/teacher/saxophonist/clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, taking the visionary Yank’s drummer-less group idea one step further: there’s no woodwind player present either. Instead, on most tracks, Willers has the back-up of Horst Nonnenmacher — who has worked with drummer Jim Black and guitarist Elliott Sharp —playing bass, a combo chair Giuffre never emptied; and Canadian pianist Paul Bley, who was part of the clarinetist’s influential trio of the 1960s. Willers takes the role Jim Hall would have had in another Giuffre configuration, while French improv trombonist Yves Robert, who has worked with the likes of woodwind player Louis Sclavis and cellist Vincent Courtois, is the only horn, filling the space both Giuffre and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer would have taken in that trio with Hall.

Unattached to anything more than pure improv, the other disc is a first meeting between one Seattle-based and three Bay area players, interested in seeing what would result from their interactions. Each brings a different sensibility to the mix. Known for his stint with Artrockers Henry Cow, British guitarist Fred Frith, now relocated to Oakland, Calif. has explored the limits of improv with jazzier types like saxophonist Larry Ochs and John Zorn. Mixing extended and prepared Rhodes electric piano stylings and electronics, Eric Glick Rieman brings his New music, ambient and classical interests to this CD and other bands with the likes of Frith and Zorn.

Seattle trumpeter Lesli Dalaba, who is also an acupuncturist, earlier played in Elliott Sharp’s Carbon, and the Balkan brass band Zlatne Ustne. Classically-trained, violinist Carla Kihlstedt has worked extensively with choreographers, appeared on CDs by Tom Waits and Mr. Bungle, and is a member of both the acoustic Tin Hat Trio and of the Art-rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. While rock, pop, ambient, classical and jazz inform this recording, sometimes the players seem so liberated from the need to conform to specific forms and rhythms that they go beyond freedom to formlessness.

Take “Ant farm morning”, at 16 minutes the longest tune on the CD. Here the

whistle of high-pitched fiddle lines and unidentifiable, ambient, electrco-acoustic sounds combine with long stretches of what appears to be Frith whacking his electrified guitar strings. As the squeaks, bangs and bell-like peals recede into the background, Dalaba’s seemingly double-tracked trumpet line appears, with her exhibiting profound breath control, holding each note for an extended period. Eventually this sound is met by distorted electric guitar lines, pizzicato plucks from the lowest of Kihlstedt’s strings and electronic swiggles that could be bubbling fish sounds.

It would facile to say that Dalaba’s acupuncture training unerringly allows her to pinpoint where each tone should be placed. But except at the very end of a tune like “Worm anvils”, squeals and note flurries seem to supersede surgical note placement. Elsewhere, her output seems buried — or lost — within the electronic miasma to such an extent, that you almost wonder if she’s present. Meanwhile, on “Worm anvils” Glick Rieman’s ascending electric piano cadenzas fan out so that you feel he’s going to burst into “Riders on the Storm” at any minute; the guitarist’s skronky screech sound like he’s auditioning for the Yardbirds; and the violinist moves from squeals to aching Old Timey folk style.

Other times it appears as if Kihlstedt is making her points by shortening both her bow sweep and the swath of string real estate she’s emphasizing. Alternately, her tone is so high-pitched, yet legato that she moves into flute territory. When the keyboardist doesn’t sound as if he’s busying himself testing power tools at a home handyman’s workbench, his otherworldly tones can reconstitute themselves as a replication of busy West Nile virus-spreading mosquitoes. The guitar work ranges from deliberate scratch exploration over the fretboard, up the strings to the pegs to fluttering amp contortions, single staccato strokes and the odd wavering tone that recalls Bill Frisell at his most folksy. Then there’s “Lucy has a new pet kitty”, which showcases a cat-like yodel which could arise from a human throat, electronics or violin strings mixing it up with guitar strums, following an intro that resembles clunky Bo Diddley guitar strokes played just slightly flat.

Bo Diddley’s guitar work doesn’t feature on Willers’ disc, but there are points on the title track and “Motif” where his wavering guitar lines replicate one of blues guitarist’s resonating lonesome sounds. Elsewhere his tone appears to be just a little too legit, as if he’s a classical guitarist merely trying out this improv thing.

That conception establishes the somewhat insurmountable task Willers has set himself up to here. Admirably not wanting to make this CD a neo-con recreation session, the guitarist covers very few compositions of Giuffre and his circle. Yet when he does so, the results are so attached to European New music stylistic ticks that you wonder why he bothered.

One of the clarinetist’s most famous pieces, “The Train & the River”, for instance, is so reconstituted with flamenco-like strummed guitar lines and single slide position breaths from Robert at the top, that the melody only peers through. Elephant- trumpeting vibratos from the boneman and circular fingerpicking don’t add that much either.

Another Giuffre tune, “Divided Man” may have a less metaphoric title than he imagines. Basically the ponderous approach taken to it and some of the other material lacks the playfulness someone like Hall added to the Giuffre canon. Robert’s plunger muted lines, Willers’ sprightly acoustic flat-picking, the thump of Nonnenmacher’s bass and the rubato fantasia Bley can produce at a moment’s notice seem at times to be divorced from one another.

Honestly, the best parts of the CD appear when salutes and tributes are forgotten and the four musicians get down to studio-created, instant compositions, a present day Bley specialty. So familiar with the piano’s inner workings that he can sneak inside in such a away that he appears to be creating electronic effects, Bley also knows how to voice his catalogue of effects with Robert’s silky plunger trombone and Willers’ output which can range from rhythmic comping to speedy, echoing single notes. There’s even a point where accentuated guitar notes circle around blowsy trombone lines, which surround tremolo piano parts which are complemented by flatish bass note strokes. How’s that for a replication of the wheel of life?

Both these guitar-centred quartets have to be commended for their willingness to try something different and praised for some of the unusual sounds they produce. But when each disc appear to run longer than its noted time, it implies that a tightened focus would have been better for both.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: DFGRK: 1. How light a potato chip 2. The distance that separates dreams 3. Spicule maneuver 4. Worm anvils 5. Shallow weather 6. Lucy has a new pet kitty 7. Ant farm morning

Personnel: DFGRK: Lesli Dalaba (trumpet); Carla Kihlstedt (violin, electric violin, Stroh violin); Fred Frith (guitar); Eric Glick Rieman (prepared and extended Rhodes electric piano)

Track Listing: North: 1. Variations on Yggdrasill by Jimmy Giuffre 2. Carla 3. Divided Man 4. Mood 5. In the North 6. Motion 7. Face One 8. Face Two 9. The Train & The River 10. Voodoo* 11. Glaswerk 12. Motif 13. Gotta Dance

Personnel: North: Yves Robert (trombone); Andreas Willers (electric and acoustic guitars, classical guitar*); Horst Nonnenmacher (bass)