NUMINOUS OPOSSUM

Find the Burrow and Bury Your Head
Umbrella 29

LIEBIG/VATCHER/GOLIA
On the cusp of fire and water
Red Toucan RT 9324

Ad hoc trio sessions featuring a multi-reed player and a strong West Coast orientation, these CDs show how different players approach improvisation.

Linking Andrew Voigt former member of the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Morgan Guberman, a quirky soundsinger and electric bassist — both from the Bay area — and Ian Davis, a resourceful percussionist from North Carolina, at home in settings ranging from duos to large ensembles, FIND THE BURROW AND BURY YOUR HEAD follows a minimalist path.

Recorded less than four months earlier, ON THE CUSP OF FIRE AND WATER has a more playful bent. This is probably due to the presence of former Angelo and present day Amsterdam resident, drummer Michael Vatcher, who brings his air horn and pop gun to the session along with his ideas. His partners in the endeavor are Vinny Golia, whose command of nearly every reed instrument extant involves him with most creative music making in the Los Angles area; and bass guitarist Steuart Liebig, who despite the usual pop-orientation of his axe, has been onside with experimenters like percussionist Gregg Bendian. Not long ago he also recorded POMERGRANTE, his own impressive large ensemble CD, for Cryptogramophone.

Numinous Opossum makes clear during the session that to its three members, the journey is more important than the destination — and you can respect them for that. Still, more variations in timbre and inflection could have given the trip multiform scenery and make it seem less like a bus ride through miles of flat prairie.

Davis’ odd metered percussion at times adds some protuberance as does Guberman’s distinctive mouth-and-throat vocalizing. But despite his horn collection —- that includes flute, and bass flute, sopranino and alto saxophones — Voigt keeps everything on an even keel. Certainly when the near-stillness of his flute playing begins to resemble the ceremonial sound of a cross-blown Chinese dizi, stasis isn’t far off. Other times the sonorous flute flights move from the Far to the Middle East. Much more impressive are those tunes where a long unsegmented reed timbre seems to have an electronic drone accompanying it, only to have the sound be revealed as Davis gradually turning up the pressure on a cymbal with a cross drawn drum stick.

Then there’s “Blinding Heliotrope”, where bluebird-like trilling tones move up in pitch to chickadee-like multiphonics. Soon rubs and scrapes in the background from both bassist and drummer make it seem as if small animals are loose in the studio and Guberman’s throat swallowing and mouth panting extended with internal yodels add to the bestial primitivism.

“Jester” is a particular display of Davis’ percussion inventiveness. As Voigt produces chromatic flute runs, the drummer begins tapping single notes from his unattached cymbal. This soon evolves into a duet of wooden stroked tones and tongue slaps which extend still further into disconnected and unstable wavering trills — arriving from both flute and saxophone. Guberman’s electric bass confines itself to low-key rumbling, as the percussionist daintily strokes his cymbals and further manipulates drum pitter-patter probably with his bare hands. Diminuendo finds a legato soprano trill demarcating percussion movements that sound as like folding and unfolding aluminum foil.

Davis is able to introduce new timbres to the almost 22-minute final and title track with sounds that appear to be sand grains being jiggled, tiny bells being shaken and rim shots that mirror the reedist’s multiphonic echoes and tongue slaps. Still, the track’s length almost defeats everyone’s inventiveness. Sounds include glottal punctuation, melodious smeared flattement and individual slurs from different staves of the horn from Voigt; ponticello swipes, shuffle bowing and steady thumb pops from Guberman’s bass; as well as verbal mumbles, quacks, retches and nonsense syllables from his vocal chords.

No one vocalizes on the other CD, although Vatcher — who has backed a bunch of Netherlands-based leaders from Dutch pianist Michiel Braam to American reedist Michael Moore — gives his air horn and popgun an explosive workout on “Transit”. This is after he uses quick rolls and flams to hold the rollicking beat as Golia’s double-tonguing and circular breathing continue unperturbed. Liebig somehow manages to produce arco [!] fills as well as resonating country picking strums on “Aftermath”, as Vatcher switches from irregular jumping rhythms to beboppy cymbal work. Meanwhile the reedist warbles a repetitive melody, then downshifts to smears.

Interestingly enough, like Voigt on the other disc, his improvising on flute — and especially the stritch, which sounds like an off-pitch alto saxophone — sometimes takes on an Arabic cast.

When Golia emphasizes this orientation, as he does on “Prelude”, it isn’t long before he’s buzzing out some cross-blown tones, with the facility of Rahsaan Roland Kirk — jazz’s acknowledged stritch master. This sound intersects with Vatcher’s scraped cymbal accompaniment and a secondary ponticello line from Liebig’s bass. As the piece speeds up, the bassist creates a complimentary counterline with looping reverb that could be coming from a guitar rather than a bass. Leaving the stentorian beat to Liebig’s axe, Golia trills with a pleasantly nasal quality that soars more than it drones, and Vatcher batters out a semi-swing beat.

“Undertow”, at almost 20½ minutes, fares better than Numinous Opossum’s almost 22 minute “Find the Burrow and Bury your Head”, as each trio member tries to come up with unexpected tones. Vatcher goes from rattling temple bells and rolling glass armonica textures to bass drum resonation and a cymbal-crashing backbeat, while Liebig flat picks a steady line that leeches into rock territory. Meanwhile Golia seems to instantaneously switch from quivering, high-pitched stritch pitches to mellow flute timbres and then onto mid-range circular breathing from the clarinet. The piece reaches a crescendo with the reedist squeezing out sharp trills and irregular split tones. Coupled with a hocketing bass lines, the sound finally dissipates into a single vibrated tone.

Two trios, two conceptions … both are worth investigating.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Burrow: 1. An Aperitif? 2. Requisition 3. Jester 4. Milk-eyed Rat 5. Blinding Heliotrope 6. Dream of the Matador 7. Find the Burrow and Bury your Head

Personnel: Burrow: Andrew Voigt (flute, and bass flute, sopranino and alto saxophones); Morgan Guberman (electric bass and voice); Ian Davis (percussion)

Track Listing: cusp: 1. Flurries 2. Prelude 3. Aftermath 4. Transit 5. Undertow

Personnel: cusp: Vinny Golia (alto flute, clarinet, stritch and soprano saxophone); Steuart Liebig (Eb contrabass guitars); Michael Vatcher (drums, percussion, airhorn and popguns)