Alessandro Bosetti/Annette Krebs
GROB 540

Rebecca (Two Variations)
Charhizma 022

Small music duos, these CDs both featuring a woodwind player plus someone manipulating a prepared acoustic guitar, and offer a window into the state of Berlin-centred reductionist music.

Each of the duos is much more concerned about gesture, resonance and texture than melody or rhythm. Yet within these strictures the statements made differ to some extent, especially since soprano saxophonist Alessandro Bosetti and guitarist Annette Krebs divide their music into six mid-length pieces. Clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski and guitarist/zitherist Michael Renkel play two extended piece of more than 37 minutes and almost 32 minutes each — together about one-third longer than the entire other CD.

Not only that, but while the Bosetti/Krebs tunes were recorded all of a piece in real time in one studio, improvising variations on “Rebecca” occupied Fagaschinski and Renkel for many months before the CD was made. Recorded over a four-day period in the saxman’s flat, the two variations were at that time merely the most recent conceptualizations of the music.

There’s more to it than that as well. Parsing the title, the two point out that the “concept of return” is hidden in the name, with “re” (return), “bec” (back) referring to the act of remembering, and “ca” (circa) stands for the indeterminate. A transplant from Dannenberg, Germany to Berlin, Fagaschinski has long been exploring concepts of restrained improv and electro-acoustic outsounds with like-minded players such as inside pianist Andrea Neumann, who often works in duo with Krebs — featured on the other CD — and in solo performance. Michael Renkel, who studied classical guitar in Hamburg, is also part of Phosphor with, among others, Neumann, Krebs and Bosetti, plus percussionist Burkhard Beins, who often works with Fagaschinski.

Although it appears to be little more than strained silence at the beginning, it’s the shorter “Rebecca (Variation No. 6)” that’s more memorable. In front of strummed guitar chords and crab-like manipulations of the zither’s single strings with a mbira-like cast, Fagaschinski rustles out key and reed percussion. When Renkel suddenly hits the front of his guitar full on, the clarinetist introduces quavering circular breathing for a few seconds. As the guitarist strums and picks resonating tone patterns, the reedist expels air currents like a lonely foghorn, creating wheezy, pinched variations on split tones.

Then the guitarist explores bottleneck variations and folk-style chording, turning first to resonating flat-picking and then banging his strings with the heel of the hand as he plays. In response, Fagaschinski blows out purposely-flat streams of colored air that literally sound like a man respiring — not an instrument. Soon, soggy waterlogged breaths languidly follow this, as Renkel highlights percussive guitar sounds that appear to be played on the instrument’s body not the strings. Finally the plectrumist suggests a two-note rhythmic figure and the clarinetist blows a swelling reed line around it. With guttural single tones and glottal stops, the piece draws to an end, borne on a cushion of vacillating movements from preparations.

Longer by almost seven minutes, “Rebecca (Variation No. 5)” doesn’t really add much more then length to the two’s decision to improvise on the same piece over and over again. Isn’t that why conventional jazzers plays standards? Following scraped and scratched zither and guitar lines, the clarinetist advances a pure, coloratura mellow tone that intensifiers, expands and lengthens, stretching back into itself with a reed-biting augmentation. Somehow producing rolling mouth static, the clarinet tones soon meld with bouncing, ricocheting single string jumps probably from the zither. When flat out finger picking arrives, Fagaschinski first unleashes short chirrups that sound like crickets in a night time forest, then louder, more abrasive split tones that are solid in conception and non-movement. Treatments from Renkel’s side suggest electric organ tones, and as these undulate to form a continuum, the other subtly works his way down the scale ending up with near a-clarinet sounds.

Soon, in response to the resonating whack against a single vibrating string, the reedman’s line split still further, allowing him to come up with a second, complementary tone in a lower register, then a third in a higher register. Resounding and more diffuse air discharges meet the swelling reed organ tones created by preparations that then subside into nutcracker fractures and frog-like croaks. Sporting an almost vibrato-less quivering texture, Fagaschinski sounds fire-extinguisher-like whooshes. Intoning the same note pattern, the guitarist counters with finger percussion that sounds as if cymbals are being rasped and what appears to be strums on the fretguard. Ending with a tone that resembles air leaking from a balloon, the clarinetist’s wavering chalumeau timbre meets harmonically oriented plucks that meld into an almost melody

More extended techniques but fewer attachments to melody are on show on the other CD. Milan-born, Berlin-based Bosetti certainly tries to spread himself as thin as possible, being involved in text-sound compositions, experimental jazz, electro-acoustic pieces, solo sessions and reductionist snuff outs with microtonalists such as French saxophonist Michel Doneda and American reedist Bhob Rainey. Frankfurt-born, Berlin-based Krebs is another classical guitar student interested in the crossover area between improvisation and composition, exploring the possibilities of the electro-acoustic guitar involving structure, noise, the mixing of materials and space, plus using various microphones and pickups.

You can sense that during the six monochromic selections here, as rustling scrapes and shakes from the front of the guitar can often appear to be paper being crumpled, while Bosetti concentrates on hisses, rolling ghost notes and whimpers of whistling air. Although the two may not hear it that way, track four is most instructive because the face off they construct with their idiosyncratic instrumental parries and thrusts sounds like a variation of jazzers trading fours at the end of a piece. Bosetti’s initial emphasized off-key pitch almost turns to a siren wail to counter bell-pealing sounds from Krebs.

When she creates textures that resemble waves washing against the shoreline, he gets more obtuse and dusky, overblowing to produce two distinct tones at once. When she follows this with distorted fades and echoes then appears to be rubbing sandpaper right across the strings and guitar front, he chirps out shrill bird-like tones, split-second squeaks and reed percussion.

On the longer tracks the pronounced sense of structure becomes more expansive, though still in short units. Bosetti variously displays echoing wooden flute timbres, underwater bubble resonance, irregular vibratos and Bronx cheer pressure tongued against the reed and echoed within the body tube as much as from the bell. Krebs’s contributions include a growling mechanized guitar rumble, the rasp of hard objects against the strings and what appears to be the slice of an e-bow across the strands as well. If paper-shredding sounds or something that could be a car motor turning over appear in the aural field, to which instrument can they be ascribed?

The entire creation is showcased most effectively on track two. As restrained tongue slaps and flutter tonguing replace the expelling of colored air from the sax, Krebs turns her repressed scratches and far-away bumps into a dance with the plectrum on the strings beneath the bridge, the thwack of a palm against the strings and barely audible tremolo distortions. Bosetti’s tiny reed chirrups also give way to rolling, smeared reed static and trumpet-like wavering tones Soon the reedist is overblowing, but so quietly and subtly that the augmentation is in texture not volume.

Whatever you think of such experiments, both the duos here have created musical philosophies and set up definite challenges to which others must respond.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Alessandro: 1. 7:27 2. 9:50 3. 9:02 4. 5:53 5. 8:28 6. 5:05

Personnel: Alessandro: Alessandro Bosetti (soprano saxophone); Annette Krebs (eletro-acoustically prepared, tabletop classical guitar, mixing desk)

Track Listing: Rebecca: 1. Rebecca (Variation No. 5) 2. Rebecca (Variation No. 6)

Personnel: Rebecca: Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet); Michael Renkel (acoustic guitar, zither, preparations)