Creative Sources

Axel Dörner/Greg Kelley/Andrea Neumann/Bhob Rainey
Thanks, Cash

By Ken Waxman
December 6, 2004

Listening to Thanks, Cash and Tidszon together is a bit like playing those Metronome All-Stars sessions from the late 1940s, when Miles Davis and Fats Navarro sat next to one another in the trumpet section one year, and when Dizzy Gillespie was the sole trumpeter the next.

That’s because with Axel Dörner and Greg Kelley on the first CD and Birgit Ulher on the later you can hear representations of the sort of brass evolution Davis, Navarro and Gillespie were attempting in their time. Plus, to confirm the all-star sobriquet a little further, Kelley and Axel Dörner are joined by soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey in that quartet, and Ulher by multi-reedman Martin Küchen in UNSK.

In their own ways, Boston’s Rainey and Stockholm’s Küchen are as revolutionary in their approach as Metronome’s reed winners — Charlie Parker and Lee Konitz — were in their day. Furthermore, UNSK is propelled by inventive Swedish drummer Raymond Strid. His work with ensembles as different as Barry Guy’s New Orchestra and a trio with British bassist Tony Wren and Küchen proves that his adaptability is on the same level as Shelly Manne’s and Max Roach’s, the All-Stars of the late 1940s, was in their epoch.

You can’t take the metaphor too far however. There was no category in the 1940s for the live-electronics and objects that Swede Lise-Lott Norelius brings to UNSK. And even Lennie Tristano, the Metronome piano winner for those years, may have had difficulty with the inside piano stylings of German Andrea Neumann.

Putting these bands into this sort of context should reduce the fear some people have about unfamiliar sounds. Followers of trumpeter Roy Eldridge, saxist Johnny Hodges, drummer Gene Krupa and pianist Teddy Wilson in the 1940s were as unsure about the Gillespie-Parker-Tristano advances as today’s modern mainstreamers are of the sounds here. Although these discs aren’t light-hearted listening so much as deep listening, the rewards can be the same.

First of all push the timbres of conventional instruments out of your inner ear when listening. The soundscape is completely different. Start with UNSK as well. Every so often you’ll hear Strid advancing the odd press roll, Ulher playing some chromatic runs and Küchen trilling and tongue slapping — techniques as old as the instruments themselves. Still, the sounds here are definitely post-jazz mixed with contemporary composition — which is partially Norelius’ background anyhow.

A track such as “AZODT”, for instance, includes plastic penny-whistle-like squeals, the resonation of traps kit movement along the floor and sniffs and aviary cheeps from live electronics. At one point signals from the electronics reconfigure the reed output with a cello-like tone, then unidentified scratches and scrapes are brought forward in percussion clip-clops, solid, brassy tones and reed tongue stops.

The trumpeter, who has also worked with British drummer Roger Turner and Swiss live-electronics experimenter Ernst Thoma, brings a lyrical bent to her solos in tunes like “HOVT”. Overall, though, save for some muted and very internal plunger work, her chief strategy is pushing pure unaccented air from the mouthpiece to the bell, usually without valve reliance. On this track, it’s done over tongue slaps plus reed drones from the saxophonist, peeps and bell-like resonation from the drummer, and an undertow of looping electronics.

Küchen, who also plays with Exploding Customer, a Swedish Free Jazz quartet, mutes any ecstatic exhibitionism here. Raspy growls join fluttering electronic signals from Norelius, plus cymbals and snare abrasions from Strid’s possibly using knitting needles for drumsticks. Later, a mechanized buzz is interrupted by metallic pressure from a saxophone’s body tube, then shrill reed trills complement bubbly electronic rotations.

Strid doesn’t time keep per se, but instead ratchets and smacks items that sound as if they range from a plastic water pail to aluminum pie plates, while speedily pitter-pattering on the snare and ride cymbal. He also uses subtle snare manipulation and a quick martial drum roll to redirect pulsating electronic oscillations, brass mouthpiece tongue kisses and serpentine reed trills into consequential movement.

Tidszon’s climax is the final track where high-pitched pulsation from the buzzing electronics including what sound like ray gun discharges make space for the others’ output. Their textures include pressurized muting of the sax bell against a pants’ leg, rampaging brass tones, cymbal rattles and taps as well as strokes on what is probably a plastic version of a wood block.

Reflecting the bonding that took place during what is described as “an exhaustive U.S. tour”, Thanks, Cash’s centerpiece is its 23-minute second track, recorded — in of all places — Birmingham, Alabama. If Ulher often plays in muted Miles mode, then the American Kelley and German Dörner come across as audacious Gillespie and Navarro exhorters. Just don’t expect to hear a set of spectacular triplets in high voltage range from either.

There are two electronic-based, ear-splitting reverberations on this track, but the brassmen — singly and together — push out dense, solid tones, elongated mouthpiece buzzing and stifled growls rather than head for their axes’ top range. Most of the soloing is done very close to the microphone, so on occasion a trumpet will sound like a siren, or another time make an almost human wail. Meanwhile Rainey, who with Kelley makes up the nmperign duo, manhandles his horn every which way. His specialty is whispered circular breathing, irregular vibratos and tongue slaps. Somehow, he also manages to pull harmonica-like squalls from his reed.

Dörner, who uses a computer here, must use it to help Neumann produce the chain rattling, pulsating drone and sequenced string-like shuffle that often hover just below the aural surface. Loops of fluttering reverb at one point give way to what could be mallets striking a marimba’s bars, but is probably the pianist bapping her exposed internal string set. Later a trumpet briefly scrapes the mike, while less concentrated half-valve glisses from the brass and pitch vibrations from the sax diffuse over the others’ textures. The track’s climax involves percussive waveforms pulsating from inside the piano, extended and amplified by the computer before fading away.

Elsewhere Rainey, without add-on electronics creates a Lyricon-like reverb that is half-shrill and half-insect song. Or he blows watery multiphonics as well as prolonged, deep-pitched tones that could be expelled from a plastic PVC tube. Otherwise, the most prominent timbres are looped interfaces from trumpets that resound to wild animal squeals, and what often appears to be the replication of a clawed mammal foraging its way through the middle of the inside piano strings.

Younger musicians in the main, the quartets on Thanks, Cash and Tidszon are still in the midst of experimentation and discovery. Try either of these sessions for size if you want to witness the results.