Leo CD LR 389

Open frontiers
forward.rec 02

High and low timbres, long and short pitches — these CDs showcase the limits to which woodwinds can be pushed. Endlessly fascinating for the reed fancier, and memorably convincing for everyone if taken in the right spirit and in proper proportions, the sessions enunciate the advanced language of 21st century improvisers.

BIRDOLOGY finds Swiss Peter A. Schmid and American Vinny Golia working out duets featuring almost every member of the woodwind family from sopranino saxophone and piccolo at one end to contrabass clarinet and Eb contrabass saxophone or tubax at the other. Schmid is part of the all-horns Swiss quartet September Winds and has duetted with Britain’s reed master Evan Parker. Los Angeles’ Golia plays every member of the reed family — and some that hasn’t yet been invented — and has performed in every possible setting from solo to massive big band.

OPEN FRONTIERS showcases a similar meeting of minds for the flute family with Portugal’s Carlos Bechegas and France’s Michel Edelin both playing piccolos, C, alto and bass flutes. Somewhere on the 20 tracks Edelin also exposes his skills on foot-joint bass flute, bansari, bamboo Guadlupean flute, Indian mouthpiece flute, piccosax, birdcall and siren.

The French veteran has played everything from opera to hard-core improv and with musicians ranging from mainstream tenor man Larry Schneider to Free Jazz saxist Byard Lancaster. More than 15 years Edelin’s junior, Bechegas is also a visual arts teacher and multimedia composer. During the past few years he has recorded with among others British guitarist Derek Bailey and German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach.

As good as these CDs are — and at points both are exceptional — each would have benefited from fewer tracks. BIRDOLOGY itself has 16. With only five tunes among the 36 on both discs more than five minutes long, some appear to be little more than technical exercises designed to show off the attributes of certain horns. Those that offer definite contrasts end up being the most impressive.

Take OPEN FRONTIERS’ “Purple Nightmare”, for instance. On it, chomping, snapping and deep in the throat glossolalia meet yowls, yips and yodeling shouts that suggest Kung Fu film acting. Warbling peeps from one flute mix with windy nonsense syllables pushed through a lower-pitched reed from the other.

“Where is the exit?” distinguishes itself as bird-like strangled whistles and piercing cries face comb-and-tissue paper timbres from a bass flute with the vibrations droning against the metal. Meanwhile the title tune finds spittle-encrusted tones from a lower-pitched instrument building up to complement sharp, shrill lines emanating from a transverse flute.

Elsewhere improvisations find one flautist exposing snorting a tuba-like continuum, Bronx cheers arising from resonating lips, tart percussive breaths that are reminiscent of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s approach to that horizontal metal, and expansive fog horn suggestions. Contributions from the other player include irregular, scraped melody lines, overblowing to produce a nasal, ney-like sound, modulated mellow tones, undulating hums, twittering polyphonic lines, plus finger hole beats.

Quickest entree to the duo’s technique is its recasting of Monk’s “Trinkle tinkle. Here tart, rhythmic breaths and key percussion from one introduce a legato reading of the melody on tradition flute from the other. As the theme is advanced first at its usual tempo, then with double time, extra air expelled in the background give it a distinctive overlay.

No jazz classics are featured on BIRDOLOGY, just pieces with mostly ornithological names that give Schmid and Golia scope to express themselves on the 14 reeds they play between them.

Sometimes the metaphors are obvious. “Madenhacker I” and “Madenhacker II” for example, are named for the small African bird that feeds on insects it finds on the hide of animals like elephants or rhinos. So on the first run through Schmid lumbers along limning subterranean snorts from the tubax, while Golia, on saxello, leaps about in constant, twittering circles. Second time out, the American switches to sopranino and shrills extra high vibrations, while the Swiss keeps up a continuum of shuddering low tones. Symbiotically the two end the piece practically in unison.

“Wiedehopf” finds Schmid producing irregular lines from his contrabass clarinet as Golia warbles his piccolo in its highest range, repeating the trills until they’re almost ear splitting. Soon the clarinet introduces glottal stops and tongue slaps as the piccolo chirrups. If you didn’t know the title was a translation of he name of the hoopoe bird, you’d think it immortalizes a face off between a field mouse and a dinosaur.

Other pieces work off the similar sounds of certain instruments. “Taubenbalz” or courtship of the dove, features Golia on the alto flute and Schmid on the bass flute, switching lines back and forth between bubbling, legato tones and key pops. “Some other blackbirds”, with both on Eb clarinets, is a mellow unison line with snaky upwards motion and vibrated tempered tones. As the two flutter tongue, the lines double and triple. Then as resonating trills turn into unison pitches, one maintains the theme with hunting horn cadences, as the other accompanies him with a higher pitched countermelody.

“Dodo & other extinct species” is an exercise in polyphonic timbres with the Swiss moving between the low-down Eb and contrabass clarinets and the American — who is supposed to be playing piccolo as well — mostly keeping to tubax tones. As the two snort and tongue slap upwards, one creates slurred organ-like tones and both shout through their body tubes as if they were lumbering animals wading in the mud.

Finally, “Pharaona”, which is the Italian name for pheasant, manages to enact a rare non-Western textures, with Schmid sounding the Asiatic taragot with a wavering ostinato and Golia producing chiming, Sephardic lines and slurred bass notes

While a consolidation of tracks into fewer, longer tracks would help both CDs, the Swiss and American musicians outpace the French and Portuguese creators with a wider variety of more carefully designated tones.

Still both CDs are worth investigation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Open: 1. Tales of Lhassa 2. Where is the exit? 3. Phoenix babies 4. Tidada circle 5. Parallel way 6. Mad pads 7. How to do it? 8. Bubbling up 9. Undulate meeting 10. Dark fireworks 11. Open frontiers 12. Blue of breath 13. Trinkle tinkle 14. Purple nightmare 15. How do you spell it? 16. Wake up melody 17. Would you like some more Irish keffieh, Mr. Lawrence? 18. Tetra 19. Spirits voices 20. Classic average

Personnel: Open: Carlos Bechegas (piccolo, C, alto and bass flutes; Michel Edelin (piccolo, C, alto and bass flutes, foot-joint bass flute, bansari, bamboo Guadlupean flute, Indian mouthpiece flute, piccosax, birdcall and siren)

Track Listing: Birdology: 1. Clarinet choir 2. Blackbirds 3. Madenhacker I 4. Taubenbalz 5. Pharaona 6. Flute choir 7. Möventanz 8. Wiedehopf 9. Frässerbiine 10. Some other blackbirds 11. Ameisen und b-meisen 12. Dodo & other extinct species 13. Mövenschrei 14. Madenhacker II 15. Woodpecker duet 16. Saxophone choir

Personnel: Birdology: Peter A. Schmid (Eb, bass and contrabass clarinets, sopranino, baritone and contrabass [tubax] saxophone, taragot, bass and wooden flutes, bass recorder); Vinny Golia (sopranino and contrabass [tubax] saxophones, saxello, alto and wooden flutes, piccolo, ney, Bb, Eb and bass clarinets)