MOUNT WASHINGTON

Mount Washington
Reify Recordings RE 001

Creating a vehicle in which a larger group of musicians can participate in non-idiomatic improvisation has been one European conception that has only recently absorbed in North American.

Even so, most large improvising ensembles on this continent usually draw their organizational structure from Free Jazz. That’s why this CD, by a mixture of Europeans and Americans, is so memorable. Pooling memories and experience and without relying on call and response, vamps or raucous solos work, the eight players create something that’s firmly in the atmospheric EuroImprov heritage, yet adds something of its own to the seven instant compositions named for their duration.

Other differences arise from the ensemble’s shortage of horn players — only three are represented — and a corresponding preponderance of strings — four, including an amplified, acoustic guitarist. Furthermore, German percussionist Martin Blume, who usually works in smaller groups with the likes of British violinist Phil Wachsmann — also on hand here —is about as far away from a big beat, big band drummer as possible.

Slaps, clips and punches, not to mention stick and brush pressures, replace fixed rhythmic pulses in his vocabulary here. And no other player takes up the beat function. Perhaps the closest thing to ostinato would be the slurs and tongue slaps from the bass clarinet of Los Angeles resident Chris Heenan, who also plays alto saxophone here, and the bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet of Berlin’s Wolfgang Fuchs.

Fuchs, whose other instrument is sopranino saxophone, has recently been touring in trio formations. But the squeals, squeaks, and split tones he adds to MOUNT WASHINGTON, not to mention the aggregation’s size, are reminiscent of his larger band, the King Übü Orchestrü. Both Wachsmann, whose virtuosity with unconventional techniques and electronic extensions have allied him to improvisers like British saxophonist Evan Parker; and Vancouver, B.C.-based bassist Torsten Müller, whose ponticello bowing and light-fingered pizz set him apart from other time-keepers; are part of King Übü.

Harpist Anne LeBaron, whose impressive arpeggio command often makes it difficult to ascribe notes to her, the bassist or violinist, has worked in larger groups with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and smaller bands with composer Earl Howard. Trombonist Tucker Dulin, now in San Diego, was involved in Masashi Harada’s Conduction Ensemble with Bostonians like trumpeter Greg Kelley. Like Kelley he plays up the soundsource coloration rather than the brassiness of his horn. Even guitarist Jeremy Drake, whose main experience is in small groups with other guitarists and percussionists, makes it a point here to fill an ensemble rather than soloist role.

The fourth tune matches the spiky scratch of the massed strings with expanded bouncing paradiddles from Blume plus curved ostinato and tongue slaps from the lower-pitched reeds. Miniscule slide position twists and turns occupy Dulin, while glissando rallies from the harp expand Müller’s pedal point and wood-rending tones.

Snaky, swirling tongue stopped slurs and backwards growls from the reeds answer Drake’s raucous guitar tones as does spiccato bowing from the bassist and fiddler on the second piece. Smack in the middle are harp reverberations that use a rhythm and harmony to sound like a Romanian cymbalum. As each distinctive tone is plucked, one of the reedists bisects it with tongue slaps and irregular vibrations. Fittingly the climax follows speedy bass lines, fingerpicking guitar fills and shrill reed tonguing that unrolls almost above human hearing range.

Quieter tracks may be concerned with alchemically transforming tongue bubbles and reed chirrups into near electronic oscillations or how col legno or uncomplicated arco bowing can produce unconnected, legato tones. But extensive exploration makes the nearly 13 minute fifth track stand out.

As trilling reeds expand sounds that could come from a packed aviary, linear movement arrives from the shuffle bowing bass, legato violin strokes and rivet cymbal echoes. Locomotive power from the consolidated strings dissolve into plinks, slashes and plucks as bird whistles and tongue slaps from the reeds and pedal point trombonism joins with the other instruments, building to a crescendo of undifferentiated pitches. Tremolo, irregular vibrations eventually give way to loggy arco violin lines, grainy horn smears and what could be someone whistling.

Although there are more wavering buzzes, expanding dissonant pitches, split tone squeals than mellow, legato tones on this CD, no one with an ear attuned to modern sounds should be frightened.

Instead he or she can hear how an afternoon, one-time-only interaction in a Mount Washington, Calif. sunken living room could produce a new, memorable way to hear and perform non-idiomatic improvisation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 5:37 2. 7:58 3. 10:25 4. 7:27 5. 12:41 6. 6:34 7. 9:43

Personnel: Tucker Dulin (trombone); Wolfgang Fuchs (sopranino saxophone, bass and contrabass clarinet); Chris Heenan (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Jeremy Drake (amplified acoustic guitar); Philipp Wachsmann (violin, electronics); Anne LeBaron (harp); Torsten Müller (bass); Martin Blume (percussion)