BURKHARD BEINS/DIRK MARWEDEL/MICHAEL VORFELS

Misiiki
Rossbin RS 013

TRESBASS
Gafarra
Unit UTR 4141

Unique definitions of the relationship between strings and reeds distinguish these Northern European CDs, which depend on unusual instrumentation as well as the re-ordering of tones and textures to make their points.

Trebass’ GAFARRA offers a Swiss take on the sphere. Here Peter Landis on soprano, tenor and bass saxophones works with two of his countrymen who believe in low tones — Jan Schlegel on electric bass and Herbert Kramis on acoustic double bass. Meantime, MISIIKI shows how German musicians face the same challenge. Dirk Marwedel on so-called extended saxophone — probably an alto — combines for a mixed program of non-idiomatic pitches and silences with Burkhard Beins and Michael Vorfeld, both of whom play what’s described as percussion and string instruments.

The multitasking of the two allows Marwedel, often involved with interdisciplinary projects with people like Swiss violist Charlotte Hug, to trade licks with two string players or two percussionists or a string/percussion team. Drawing on the experience of Beins, who is involved in electro-acoustic bands like Phosphor, the tumbrel results often touch on electronics without that hardware being present.

“Oou”, for instance, begins with an airy reed note that meshes with a shuffled bass line and a faint drum beat. Soon darker, deeper bass tones meet single string pressures and ponticello slithers. Following what appears to be hand drumming, bird-like reed whistles downshift to intermittent, near-electronic squeals ending as cylindrical growls.

Or listen to “Pump” and “Schist”, succeeding tunes that run right into one another. The former begins with a reed bleat, a cymbal peal, then the respiration of growling tone through the saxophone’s gooseneck. Percussive timbres, encompassing an object spinning on a snare top, the distant chime of a bell tree and the abrasive scratch on a ride cymbal, intermingle with very high-pitched and intensely low-toned reed wheezes. As sandpaper-like rubbing of the strings faces off against vibrations from chimes and small cymbals, the reed screech lowers down to a snort. This reed respiration also serves as an ostinato, while tympani mallets move the rhythm back and forth.

Sustaining the mood on “Schist”, buzzsaw textures form resonating cymbals and the bass drum diffuse the output. Eventually, the quasi-electronic whirl that comes from the proximity of other instruments defines itself as cymbal tones.

Later exhibitions of ponticello and shuffle bowing, conga or djembe suggested drum rhythms and piercing sax tones are forecast by the ceremonial style tones that arise in “Moja”, the 14 minute first track. With the percussionists initially rubbing the top of their drum heads as if they’re using Swiffers, grating cymbal thwacks and kettle drum rumbles buffer continuous aviary sax trills that break up into high-pitched reed whistles, colored air movements and toilet plunger slurps. Blowing air through the sax’s body tube without moving its keys, Marwedel produces a tongue stop that gives ample space for Beins and Vorfeld to create spinning top textures mixed with cymbal peals.

Definitely more chipper then MISIIKI, although lacking the percussion component, GAFARRA still manages to include rhythmic beats. Many come from the key pops and tongue slaps of Landis’ bass saxophone or the bass guitar of Jan Schlegel, who also performs a similar function in the Silent Minority band.

“Häxäböüdeli” is a prime example of this. Here the speedy, beat box-like thwaps

from the electric bass strings encourage Landis to squeal out split tones and siren-like multiphonics. Midway through, resonating thumps gear down to pacific plucked bass lines. Then Kramis, who has worked in various formations with Schlegel, Landis and pianist Irène Schweizer, produces shuffled arco lines that reconstitutes themselves as a counter melody. Following some hearty Landis tongue slaps, the saxist combines with the acoustic bassist to produce a jaunty theme as Schlegel thuds underneath them both.

“Rappenloch” follows this strategy as well. However here Schlegel’s chromatic picking squeezes into a fatback R&B mode. First introducing the theme with his bass sax, Landis then advances the snaky melody on light-toned tenor. In contrast, tongue slaps, flattement and reed percussion join the pushing and pulling bass strings to create the jolly, irregularly timed allegro dance on “Eva’s Tanz”.

As for “Different”, it’s true to its title. Beginning with a droning electric bass line, the timbre expands with finger pops, that than becomes a blended undercurrent to soprano saxophone trills. Schlegel’s guiding line is soon joined by a polyphonic rhythmic emphasis from Kramis. Then, to counter these basement vibrations, Landis sounds a melodious, double-tongued and vaguely Arabic air.

Finally, the title tune proves that a configuration like this can be light as well as rhythmic. After a buoyant sax glissando meets percussive rumbles and strums from the two basses, the bull fiddlers separate — with the electric bassist concentrating on thumb taps and the acoustic bassist, varied, cello-like extensions. Suddenly, along with some harmonically centred tones from Kramis, Landis — on tenor — strays into dulcet Ben Webster territory for a few bars. Soon afterward, as the other two appear to be hitting the front of their basses for massive percussiveness, Landis’ reed biting turns to rooster-like crows and flutter tonguing.

No standard sax trio sessions, these two CDs show how slightly altering the output of traditional instruments allow players to express memorable — and singular — sounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Misiiki: 1. Moja 2. Oou 3.Tune 4.Chaar 5. Pump 6. Schist 7. Nana 8. Nyolc

Personnel: Misiiki: Dirk Marwedel (extended saxophone); Burkhard Beins and Michael Vorfeld (percussion and string instruments)

Track Listing: Gafarra: 1. Message sage 2. Rappenloch 3. Different 4. Belle tristesse 5. Häxäböüdeli 6. Ostacolo 7. Gafarra 8. Eva’s Tanz

Personnel: Gafarra: Peter Landis, (soprano, tenor and bass saxophones); Jan Schlegel (electric bass); Herbert Kramis (bass)