Auditorium AUD 01203

Bracing as a cold shower —and just as refreshing — this singular CD is a brusque, unforgiving take on the vaulted European string tradition, which casts aside the hackneyed prettiness blended violin, cello and double bass are usually associated with for a more profound agenda.

Not that anyone but the most hidebound traditionalists should be frightened away from this disc. The group, after all, consists of three of Europe’s paramount musicians joined for group instant compositions.

Swiss-born Maya Homburger, who plays a 1740 Italian baroque violin, is a respected chamber music interpreter of the scores of J. S. Bach and G. Ph. Telemann. Best-known as a composer, improvising bassist and leader of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Briton Barry Guy also has a background in early music with Christopher Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music. Surprisingly, though, the third participant is Walter Prati. A Milan-born collaborator with Guy, saxophonist Evan Parker and trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini among others, his specialty is using computers for real-time synthesis and sound transformation. Here, however, as an improvising cellist, he adds another layer of string ingenuity to the pieces.

As a matter of fact, it’s Prati whose work seems to be most anchored to the string group tradition on the nine selections here. As he spins out legato lines and harmonic continuum, Homburger and Guy, who often perform as a duo, surround him with abrasive, brawny but note-perfect string coloration.

With each taking their expected place on the scale, the two pitchslide while bouncing against one another, often creating the sort of trills and chirrups that only the flexibility of reeds is supposed to allow from a piece of music. Not unlike some of his improv work with Parker and drummer Paul Lytton, Guy often ripples distinctive tones up from pedal point ostinato to rhythmic attacks on the strings with the wood of his bow, tracing themes from the maneuver as a sort of frottage. Angular aviary screeches, usually absent from the baroque violin are pressed into use by Homburger when she races over the strings, and these sometimes vie for aural space with pizzicato plucks.

Add extended polytones from Prati’s four strings to the mix from the other eight, and rousing crescendos of splayed strings are on show. Just as noticeably, the fusion of so many polytonal and polymetrical themes into a busy sprawl results in a phantasmagoria where you literally can’t tell where one’s splayed line ends and the others begin.

This liveliness contributes more to the different themes then atmospheric, Weberean atonality, though. Assorted harsh, airy and rhythmic timbres are bent into new shapes and forms beyond common string trio performance. It’s not unlike the sonic witchcraft Prati brings with his computers and electronics to tweak and shape a performance by Parker, Guy and others in an electro-acoustic environment.

Harmony, although in an unconventional form, also isn’t absent from the miasma of bee-buzzing overtones and stuttering string lines on these tracks that usually clock in at the four-to-five-minute mark. So immersion won’t be difficult for anyone interested in experiencing complex modern instant compositions with a non-traditional string trio.

Truth be told, most listeners will probably enjoy the ride.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Celebration 2. Incontro 3. Con tre 4. Inquieto 5. Alta 6. Con variazioni 7. Con agevolezza 8. Sciolto 9. Celebration (ancora)

Personnel: Maya Homburger (baroque violin,); Walter Prati (cello); Barry Guy (bass)