German Bringàs/Angelo Moroni

El Alegrimoso

German Bringàs/Jesús Domínguez/Angelo Moroni
Si Existen

Yan Shu Trio
Yan Shu Trio

by Ken Waxman

March 15, 2004

Carrying the flag for experimental music is never easy in the most favorable of circumstances, say when you play it in New York or Chicago with an infrastructure of like-minded musicians, sympathetic writers and enthusiastic audiences.

Imagine the intestinal fortitude you must possess to follow your own instincts when your immediate — and even remote — support system is minimal. Kidd Jordan in New Orleans and multi-reedist Floros Floridis in Greece first spring to mind.

Then there’s Mexico City-based German Bringàs. Using as his base that city’s Café Jazorca, an alternative arts space, Bringàs, who usually plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet and piano, is the south of the American border equivalent to Jordan or Floridis. To keep things interesting, he organizes concerts, has been steadily recording since the early 1990s and works with as many other players as he can. Along with interested locals, his collaborators have included Germans like guitarist Hans Tammen and pianist Ursel Sclicht, Brits such as drummer Chris Cutler and guitarist Fred Frith and Americans like saxist John Zorn.

This troika of CDs finds him in varied circumstances. Si Existen and El Alegrimoso are local duo and trio sessions, while his partners in the Yan Shu Trio are two Japanese noisemakers.

Stoutly seconded by Angelo Moroni on piano, drums and voice (!),El Alegrimoso is the most revealing showcase for Bringàs, who adds Hammond organ, loops and banjo to his regular instruments. Often it sounds as if for maximum sonics, he and Moroni are overdubbed, and a similar suspicion arises on Si Existen, which adds Jesús Domínguez on drums, turntables and drum machine.

Both CDs aren’t without Hispanic humor. In fact, lacking an English scorecard there are times you wonder if certain tunes aren’t more burlesque than straight statements. Take “Cfar”, El’s longest track, which begins with serious alto saxophone flutter tonguing and shrilling that meets up with splayed, high frequency tremolo piano lines and expansions. At one point though, Moroni’s fingerings take on a distinctive boogie-woogie cast, with the walking bass from right hand underlying decorated filigree from his left. Bringàs then introduces brassy trumpet lines, so that a traditionalist could be forgiven for imaging he was listening to a hitherto unknown session by pianist Albert Ammons and trumpeter Hot Lips Page.

At least that is until the trumpet lines turn to whistled grace notes. Suddenly a whinnying tenor saxophone is in evidence and Moroni turns into Earl Hines, creating a swinging pulse with his right hand as he maintains an unvarying pattern with his left. The saxophone screams and shrieks, the trumpet reappears with a chromatic run, then slides down the scale to mesh with the piano.

Earlier on “Verde”, a montuno section from piano, likely played by the reedist, joins offbeat percussion sounds that finally combine in a double-time theme. An organ is then heard along with what sounds like throat retching and reed screeches. Cymbal clatter, turntable movements and an echoing, doubled sax line that appears to have been put through a Varitone are next in the foreground, only to be succeeded by a beboppy drum solo that dissolves into plain reverberations.

The tune “1067” is alive with a late-night jazz club feel, at least when it begins as an alto and piano duet. Odd metre drumming precedes Bringàs making like Sidney Bechet on soprano, which seems to encourage Moroni to unveil a juicy caricature of scat singing, ending in a sort of rhythmic breathing. The saxman responds with bird-like trills, whistles and chicken clucks, with both musicians not connecting until they simultaneously end. “Pies Nube” is a banjo-led Balkan dance piece with any abstractions in the reed solo countered by its freylach-like Klezmer tone. Meanwhile “Torres Bye” features a steady drumbeat and a piano part — from Bringàs? — that seems to be midway between rent-party honky tonk and country and western hillbilly boogie — Texas is nearby after all. But the piano is played with splayed fingering in such a way that it sounds almost like an electric keyboard.

Elsewhere piano parts range from Chopinesque to primary exercise suggestions; trumpet tones sound like Miles Davis with a head cold or Chet Baker missing his top notes; and sax lines leap from New Thing flurries to BritImprov, near-static colored air. Some of the tracks recorded live at Café Jazorca end with audience applause, and the whole package confirms that there’s a lot more happening south of the Rio Grande than most American or Canadian jazzbos might realize.

This impression is substantiated on Si Existen, which also seems to mix European improv experimentation, American straightahead stylings and a soupçon of local humor into the brew. Domínguez’s presence gives the two others a whole new set of noises to add to the proceedings. Cases in point are “El Enano de los relojes” and “Café Jazzorca 7:00am”.

On the later it seems as if clawhammer banjo tones are on display along with the blaring of a mouth trumpet and percussion that consists of knuckles being cracked. There’s a snaky, mostly right-handed piano line moving in the opposite direction, a chunka-chunka sound from the percussion and Moroni singing — or is it screaming? — along with the off-key banjo plucks in a voice that seems to mulch Wild Man Fischer, Ukulele Ike and Babs Gonzales. The former tune has yodeling bird calls in the background and a foreground of bangs and scrapes that sound as if the musicians are taking a double bass apart or perhaps reaching inside it to manipulate the strings. All around this excavation are popping drum skin accents and a drum machine drone.

Mouthpiece buzzes, the scratch of the needle on a vinyl disc, disco dance floor shuffle rhythms, and a piano part that parodies the most obvious Thelonious Monk licks make their appearance here as well. So do turntable rumbles, Harmon-muted trumpet grace notes, an ostinato drone from the organ, and some hard bop sax and trumpet fills.

Resembling the kind of pseudo soft-porn soundtrack approximations sometime recorded by France’s MOSQ band, that also features saxophones, turntables and Hammond organ, is “Primer Mundo?”.

It features a variation of aimless piano noodling, an organ being milked for its pedal point continuum and the saxist performing a mock David Sanborn imitation until his solo dissolves into double tongued and vibrated lines and bird-like split tones. When the blanket of organ ostinato gets louder, it’s suddenly pierced by a trumpet tone that appears to be wiggling through a guitar’s effects pedal. A kettle drum bangs and the entire track fades.

If the music on Si Existen often resembles that of a soundtrack, then a glance at the performance photos on the sleeve of the Yan Shu Trio CD suggest that the music within was designed that way — likely for a theatrical performance. However it’s also the weakest of this trio of CD, since Bringàs seems to play second fiddle — er, horns — to his Japanese guests.

A potpourri of electronically treated tones with references to ProgRock and Heavy Metal, characterizes the playing of Morio on guitar and electronics and Kujun on bass, percussion and electronics. Both appear to lack first, or perhaps last names, but evidently make up for truncated nomenclature by consciously or not limiting the aural space available to the full-named Mexican who plays trumpet, soprano and tenor saxophones here.

During the course of the 11 tracks occasionally among the electronic treatments you’ll hear distant, rebounding trumpet lines or abstruse fluttering brass grace notes with tones that are alternately reminiscent of electrically treated Miles Davis or Jon Hassell’s Fourth World Music experiments. Elsewhere, reed-produced whistles, bubbles, Bronx cheers or tongue slaps will cut through the electronic miasma long enough to make their presence felt, then vanish again.

As for the rest of the CD, the most prominent sound throughout is that of electrically treated guitars, distorted with effects pedals and goofy bottleneck rasps. At intervals, the effect resembles 1960s stereo demonstration records with jarring, plucked licks ricocheting form one speaker to the other. Sometimes the effect is more painterly, with guitar notes standing out from the shifting background like globs emphasized in the thick texture of oil paintings.

Koto-like suggestions may exist, but the plectrum strokes most on display relate more obviously to Hendrix than anything plucked during the Heian period. The tick-tock of lower case drumbeats, expanding organ-like tones that take on jet plane characteristics, and grating, croaking vibrations make up much of the remaining pitch miscellany, with the final sounds resembling protracted seagull cries.

Expanding his sonic experience and knowledge has led Bringàs — and by extension his Mexican colleagues — to interact with many forms of improv and as many different players as possible. Investigating how he fares in his quest on at least two of these three CDs provides thought-provoking listening experiences.