THE BSC

Good
GROB 543

MONTEIRO/BARBERAN/FAGES/OKURA/EZAKI/UNAMI
atami
Hibari Music hibari-03

Now that microtonal improv intermingled with electronics has gained some sort of acceptance, the new challenge is to extend this sort of usually solo and duo experimentation to larger formations.

Both the six players on ATAMI and the 10 (!) involved on GOOD work out strategies to finesse this challenge. Each tries something different, but all depend on the listener being prepared to accept silences, static and split-second smears as proper sound derivations.

Both CDs feature a meeting of geographically disparate musicians. ATAMI mixes three from Tokyo — Masahiko Okura on alto saxophone and bass tube, Masafumi Ezaki on trumpet and Taku Unami playing lapsteel and laptop — with three from Barcelona: trumpeter Ruth Barberán, accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Ferran Fages on feedback mixing board and pick ups. They perform seven improvisations of about five to more than 10 minutes each.

GOOD, on the other hand, is one concentrated, 37-minute, lower case cosmic spew. It adds two Germans — trumpeter Axel Dörner and inside piano player Andrea Neumann to an octet of Bostonians: Greg Kelley (trumpet); Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone); Chris Cooper (prepared guitar); Vic Rawlings (cello, electronics); Mike Bullock (bass); James Coleman (theremin); Howard Stelzer (tapes) and Liz Tonne (voice).

Interesting enough, both groups feature two trumpeters and a saxophonist. Thus almost from the beginning Kelley and Rainey — who also work as nmperign — and Dörner, who has been in bands as different as the freebop Electrics and the reductionist Phosphor with Neumann — add flutter tonguing, wavering split tones and shattering whistles to the general swirling oscillations.

Soon the reduced parameters of silence are cleft further by corkscrew textures from Coleman’s theremin, some almost inaudible mumbling from Tonne, who partners Coleman in other bands, and percussive textures that could arise from Stelzer’s tapes or Rawlings’ electronically treated instrument. Metallic cello and bass plucks resonate polyphonically until the vocalist reenters for some airy soundsinging. Mixed with a buzzing chromatic line from the trumpets and ponticello movements from the strings is a percussive tone that could be the vibration of a pavement drill.

Among the static and stillness, Tonne’s soprano — almost sopranino — range stands out, spilling out timbres that blend squeaks and throat tones. Elsewhere her intensity expresses itself in some nearly silent screams, and at other points in a choked Patty Waters-like yodel. She easily establishes herself as a soundsinger to hear.

Neumann and Cooper aren’t as prominent. Only a few times throughout can busy tones be linked to prepared six-string reverb, for instance. Meanwhile dampened string expansions and harp-like glissandos from the piano’s intestines appear only fleetingly, pairing up with theremin warbles, or more commonly with single chromatic breaths from the horns.

Overall, although many scampering electronic noises and nutcracker-like snaps can’t be linked to individual instrumentals, horn imput is easier to identify. That may be because the three men create a litany of sibilant meandering tones that often move from directly beneath hearing range right into authentic sound. Irregular vibrations appear on top of abrasive tape polytones and overblown, but legato sax lines arch over the other instruments. Dörner and Kelley are also ever ready to quack out curt noises and Bronx cheer palpitations.

During the penultimate minutes of “Good”, scraped string sounds, bagpipe-like reed slurs and growling chromatic trumpet tones finally mesh into a crescendo of multiphonic shimmers — including clearly delineated brass grace notes. Finally fading silences replace rasping and wavering, machine-made static.

Over in Barcelona, where ATAMI was recorded, the only vocalizing comes from the horns, which attain even greater prominence in a sextet. Among the standouts are the basso, near didjeridoo tones of Okura’s bass tube, which he has displayed solo and a group with Tetuzi Akiyama’s turntables. On alto saxophone Okurae not only surmounts the static crackle of the laptop and mixing board with reed French kisses, but also uses false fingering and flutter tonguing to create vibrations through his body tube.

Rolling sibilant respiration, split second squeaks and resonating quacks from the brass players are also notable. But that’s not surprising for the committed trumpet experimentalists. Ezaki, has recorded in duo with Unami and adding Onkyo guitarist Taku Sugimoto in trio formation, while Barberán regularly focuses on free improvisation in duos with either Fages or Portuguese-born Costa Monteiro and a trio with both.

On the first track and many others the meiosis of accordion movement, lapsteel scratches and mixing board spinning transforms static and crackle from background into something greater. “Atami 6” finds the airy brass buzzes and reed key pops split by machine-like mixing board tones and metallic gear-stripping noises that are probably laptop treatments. Aviary chirps and shallow breaths escape from the horns, as meandering wood-rending scrapes are propelled by the accordion.

Barberán and Ezaki are evidentially arrayed in different directions on “Atami 5”. Before one trumpeter suctions sound from his or her mouthpiece, the other flutters out elongated tones, followed by the first biting off curt, chromatic growls. Faux percussion is on exhibit again as the tactile instruments create rapid scampering animal sounds with just a touch of reverberated oscillations. Purring brassy horn lines mesh with smeared alto sax vibrations. Then, as what seems to be a mallet is dashed against a reverberating surface, kazoo-like timbres are succeeded by a protracted, subterranean bass tube growl.

In other spots, dense stillness is first interrupted by prismatic mouth sounds and cricket-like mutterings. Eventually laptop and mixing board sine waves are succeeded by penetrating breaths forced through trumpet bells, intermittent respiration of pure air through the saxophone’s bodytube and the silent fingering of keys and studs without bellow movement from the accordion.

Captivating in their usage of dense tonal colors and silences, neither of these ensembles appears to make use of the full range of expanded instrumentation. Still if you can accept certain parsimoniousness when it comes to sound production, you can appreciate the closely woven tone colors on both CDs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Good: 1. Good

Personnel: Good: Axel Dörner and Greg Kelley (trumpets); Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone); Andrea Neumann (inside piano); Chris Cooper (prepared guitar); Vic Rawlings (cello, electronics); Mike Bullock (bass); James Coleman (theremin); Howard Stelzer (tapes); Liz Tonne (voice)

Track Listing: Atami: 1. Atami 1 2. Atami 2 3. Atami 3 4. Atami 4 5. Atami 5 6. Atami 6 7. Atami 7

Personnel: Atami: Ruth Barberán and Masafumi Ezaki (trumpets); Masahiko Okura (alto saxophone and bass tube); Alfredo Costa Monteiro (accordion); Taku Unami (lapsteel and laptop); Ferran Fages (feedback mixing board and pick ups)