Die Instabilität der Symmetrie
GROB 547 & dOc 008

These Six
SOFA 512

One reason that improvisational music is so distinctive is that an almost identical instrumental line-up can result in completely different, yet valid sounds. So it is with these two CDs.

THOSE SIX is, no surprise, made up of six instant compositions performed by the six hands of two young Norwegians — Ivar Grydeland on guitar and banjo and Tonny Kluften on bass — plus veteran German drummer Paul Lovens. The result is firmly in the jazz/free improv continuum.

The other CD, whose title translates as “The Instability of Symmetry”, merely adds one musician — Stefan Németh on synthesizer and computer — to a trio with the same instruments as on THOSE SIX. But the music the four Austrians make — the others are Martin Siewert on guitars and electronics, Werner Dafeldecker on bass and computer and percussionist Martin Brandlmayr — is firmly in the microtonal, electro-acoustic realm. It’s so embedded in that scene, as a matter of fact, that some listeners may be heard pressed to believe most of the same instruments appear on both sessions.

An established partnership, Grydeland and Kluften are also part of the ever-changing local No Spaghetti Edition collective, which adds out-of-country guests, and both men have played in a trio with veteran British drummer Tony Oxley.

As important a free improv pioneer as Oxley, Lovens is another veteran whose numerous associations include the Globe Unity Orchestra and a trio with British saxophonist Evan Parker and German pianist Alex von Schlippenbach. But he never pulls rank and tries to overshadow the Norwegians here. If anything he’s self-effacing.

Only on the fourth track, for instance, does his playing move front-and-centre. But even here, while Grydeland scratches on the front of his strings and Kluften provides constant accompaniment, Lovens’ pointillistic splashes and manipulations are integrated into the whole picture. Overall, dabs of tick-tock rimshots and smears of dead centre beats combine to make his musical points.

Additionally, his cymbal scratches and what sounds like the gradually loosening of the nuts from metal rims fits hand-in-glove with the guitar’s quietly focused fills and the bassist’s spiccato tones. Fiddle approximations aren’t the only unique sound the Norwegians bring to the session, however. Grydeland is also a banjo player, though his approach is far removed from the styles of Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs or any Dixielander.

Playing that instrument on the second track here, his chromatic plinks emphasize the banjo’s dissonant color field, often using its snapping strums in a rhythmic rather than a melodic fashion. Facing these sounds are bass work that ranges from emphasized arco slides to wood tapping, plus a constant cross stick rhythm from the. At times it also seems as if Lovens is rolling his sticks on the drum surface rather than hitting them.

On its own, the third and longest track moves into the realm of disparate silences, that actually it to the sounds on the other CD. Kluften’s walking bass line is the only constant presence, as Lovens appears to be wiping his drum tops with a cloth and producing a circular beat by tightening and loosening the tension rod on his snares and tom-toms. When he resonates unselected cymbals or sounds out a miniature tap dance on the drums’ rims and sides, Grydeland counters with flat-picking, the occasional outright pluck and slurred chording.

On DIE INSTABILITÄT DER SYMMETRIE, silences vie with undulating electronic-tinged drones, but that’s no surprise either. Other bands involving combinations of these musicians such as Efzeg and SSSD are firmly in the computer-amplified and assisted world. But while the acoustic properties of the instruments are on show, no signs of the beat-heavy pop projects in which Dafeldecker, Siewert and Brandlmayr sometime indulge are present.

“Part 4” is the closest pop approximation. Here Siewert’s shivering reverb opens up into a gentle melody that sounds as if it’s being played on an acoustic guitar. Behind him, rolling cymbal textures intercut with bass reverb and sine wave continuum create shifting background tones that soon shape themselves into a windstorm-like ostinato. This increases in volume until it almost reaches monsoon proportions. Finally, the electronics become more frantic as they swallow the andante guitar melody, with the ending featuring percussion suggestions cutting through buzzing oscillations.

Yawning, twisting cymbal textures are heard at the very end of “Part 5”, after a subtle metallic outburst from the hi-hat, ride and crash cymbals has been buried under cathedral organ-like droning crescendos. Németh’s synthesizer probably produces the sound source and its buzzing fits in with the echoing tones produced by the strings.

In contrast, “Part 3” is all quaking electronic tinged textures and rumbles from Brandlmayr’s kit, knit into an assembly line of passing tones. As the synth ejects unvarying locomotive pitches, accelerating guitar reverb rattles by, followed by the immense resonation of an electrically amplified drumbeat. By the end, however, all other sounds vanish within a static sonority that is just as abruptly cut off.

Oddly enough, the nearly 12-minute longest track, “Part 2” recorded a year previously without Dafeldecker, is just as Futuristically inclined. Beginning with a machine-like pulse, that is pierced by flat-out drum flams and a computer-generated clamor that could be unselected cymbals amplified to the nth degree. As the incessant, ululating static continues it’s occasionally interrupted by the sweep of Siewert’s fingers across his strings. This is followed by whizzing electronic friction that could result from a mistake in outlet attachment or used to make a point. Coda is a split-second drum roll and stick scuffing on a drum top.

Acoustic, electric, noise or silence — take your pick. These instrumental configurations offer up versions of all of that. Each presentation is equally valid. However neither band quite reaches the state that could make you ignore the sound sources’ delivery method for the resulting improvisations.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: These: 1. 08.48 2. 10.54 3. 14.31 4. 04.10 5. 08.29 6. 03.17

Personnel: These: Ivar Grydeland (guitar and banjo); Tonny Kluften (bass); Paul Lovens (selected and unselected drums and cymbals)

Track Listing: Die: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4 5. Part 5

Personnel: Die: Martin Siewert (guitar, lap steel and electronics); Werner Dafeldecker [except track 2]; (bass and computer); Martin Brandlmayr (drums and percussion); Stefan Németh (synthesizer and computer)