PAUL TERMOS/MISHA MENGELBERG

Paul Termos Sessions Volume I
X-OR CD 015/BIMHuis 006

PAUL TERMOS/WIEK HIJMANS
Paul Termos Sessions Volume II
X-OR CD 016/GeestGronden GG 23

When Paul Termos died at 51 last May, from cancer of the pancreas, he, like his onetime employer bassist Maarten Altena, was mainly known as a serious composer for chamber orchestras. But, and also like Altena, he had an extensive jazz/improv background as an alto saxophonist, encompassing stints in bands led by pianist Guus Janssen plus the ICP Orchestra.

Propitiously these two CDs — probably the Amsterdam-based musician’s last — feature him in improv situations. VOLUME I is a reunion with his ICP boss, pianist Misha Mengelberg. The other is a five-track romp with young electric guitarist Wiek Hijmans, who despite his non-“classical” instrument also comes from the legit world.Surprisingly enough as well, the Hijmans-Termos meeting seems to stand up better than the other duo, although whether this was the result of chemistry — body or location — or merely over familiarity from Mengelberg-Termos is open to question. Unselfconsciously Hijmans appears to see his role here as providing fills to amplify Termos’ themes. Mengelberg, on the other hand is too much of old Provo to leave well enough alone and appears intent on disrupting any musical rapprochement the two veteran associates reach.

However, on something like the aptly titled, nearly 27-minute “Longplay”, Hijmans, who has played with John Zorn and Anthony Braxton as well as the Mondrian String Quartet and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, could be Billy Bauer to Termos’ Lee Konitz or Jim Hall to his Paul Desmond. As a matter of fact throughout there are Cool jazz inferences in the saxophonist’s work as well as some from pre-Beatles rock music. The later is made most obvious on “Brown rouge rock” when his high-pitched modulations first encourage the guitarist to thumb some bass chords like a modern day Link Wray and then turn to slurred fingering à la Duane Eddy. As Termos counters with sibilant triple tonguing and squealing altissimo runs Hijmans produces pummeling strums and a forest of fuzztone distortions. All and all the guitarist’s playing is more impressive and his conception more at ease than on his own CD, ELECTRIC SOLO! (X-OR CD 012).

Back to “Longplay”, though. Here flat-picking meets fanned, trilled reed notes as Termos investigates the bottom of his horn’s range and Hijmans tries for the top of his instrument’s. As the guitarist creates the rhythmic impetus with single string fills, the reedist goes on double tonguing melodies, repeating phrase in different tempos, pitches, harmonies and speeds. Proceedings become more abstract as Hijmans loosens his strings for better effects and Termos bites down on his reed for squeaks and squeals that dramatically build up into duple notes and corkscrewed echoing tones. Power chording and blurringly fast feedback with sharp, spiky guitar chords allow Termos to spin out tones that morph Desmond’s output into something more closely resembling Evan Parker’s.

Rock, free and jazz influences play hide and seek throughout the other tracks with Termos slurring out a ney-resembling Middle Eastern mewl at one point and barely audible squeals at another or pecking out single notes that are doubled by Hijmans. For his part the guitarist uses his effects pedal to create organ-like chords, ricochets single strings for maximum bounce and flat picks behind the bridge for maximum sonics. To sum up: the disc is an altogether satisfying experience.

It’s too bad the same can’t be said for SESSSIONS VOLUME I since Mengelberg and Termos have a longer shared history. But true cooperative duo playing seems to take place only on a few selections of the CD, recorded almost exactly a year after VOLUME II. The most extended example of this is “Hallo Misha dag Paul”. Here Termos’ initial exposition of wavering multiphonics is met by strong, syncopated motion — and a few vocal cries — from the pianist. As the saxman’s false fingering and trill subside into condensed tunelets, Mengelberg somehow foreshortens his output to create a celeste-like sound that’s half processional and half swing. Soon Termos has adopted a smooth, legato tone — with a few harsh accents — wrapping itself around the piano lines and diminishing in tempo so that at one point he seems to be playing “Smile”. Unlike his usual stance, though, the pianist, Tatum-like, throws in a few too many notes to make the ballad exposition fully comfortable.

This distinctive Mengelberg defying of musical conventions is extended on “Bokkenrijder/I’ve told every little star” when the two eventually tackle a real Broadway melody. Adapting low-intensity, offside notes and double timing arpeggios to the theme, a burlesque of Jerome Kern’s melody seems complete. In an analogous fashion, the pianist’s harsh, thick-fingered octave jumping pressures Termos to change his horn’s bottom rasping to repeated, growling split tones with irregular vibrations earlier on. A couple of the other themes are almost literal nursery rhymes rounds, demanding repetitive patterns from both musicians, as first one, than the other, harmonically dismembers the tunes.

Biggest disappointment is “Dag Paul hallo Misha”, which frankly goes on too long. It clocks in at a little less than half an hour, but it sound much, much, more drawn-out. Beginning with what sounds like Mengelberg doing piano exercises, Termos’ bittersweet tone initially suggests Desmond trying his hand at Free Jazz. Soon the pianist bears down for some high-intensity dynamics and Termos’ high-pitched squeaks begin to resemble those of the pianist’s first famous associate, Eric Dolphy. Introducing repeated double-tongues lines from the saxist, Mengelberg swoops over the keyboard, often creating sympathetic overtones with each keystroke. Settling into a Braxtonian section of split tones and wide vibrato, the reedist then advances a singular theme practically a cappella. Toying with pseudo-Swing, Ragtime, Baroque and Ecclesiastical octave shifting, the pianist won’t settle on any one, then begins whistling accompaniment as Termos adapts a bop stance. Toots Thielemans need not worry, though.

Unfortunately, these displays of scattershot name-the-tune exercises continue for many minutes after their exhibition has proved the musicians’ versatility and then some. In the end, Mengelberg, who rarely produces lesser sessions on his own or with the ICP still has the chance to create better CDs. Termos unfortunately does not.

Others may judge VOLUME I less harshly and it may appeal to those seeking additional examples of the work of the infrequently recorded saxist. Still, for most, VOLUME II is the CD to seek out.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Volume I: 1. Dag Paul hallo Misha 2. Koekoek 3. Hallo Misha dag Paul 4. Bokkenrijder/I’ve told every little star 5. Rumboon 6. Trapeze

Personnel: Volume I: Paul Termos (alto saxophone); Misha Mengelberg (piano)

Track Listing: Volume II: 1. Longplay 2. Lost geography 3. Brown rouge rock 4. New ear 5. Basic

Personnel: Volume II: Paul Termos (alto saxophone); Wiek Hijmans (electric guitar)