JOHN SHIURBA

Triplicate
Spool Arc SPA402

JOHN SHIURBA
5x5 1.1=M
Unlimited Sedition ULS01

Glimpses into the inventive gray matter of composer/guitarist John Shiurba, these CDs made seven months apart in the same Oakland, Calif.-studio, show him and a nearly identical group of sidefolk exposing two leitmotifs.

The mathematically titled 5x5 1.1=M is a pure instrumental effort mixing composed and spontaneous material with echoes of Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music (GTM) — not surprising since Shiurba has worked with the influential reedman. More daring, TRIPLICATE extends the basic band on both CDs — reedists Matt Ingalls and Dan Plonsey, bassist Matthew Sperry and percussionist Gino Robair — by adding trumpeter Tom Djill, trombonist Tom Yoder and more critically the voices of Lara Bruckmann and Morgan Guberman. The guitarist only conducts on the latter, though he does play on the first disc.

All and all, Shiurba — who has also played in art rock bands and for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company — has a more appropriate forum with which to express his ideas with the larger group. That’s as long as you hear the vocalists as other instruments and not try to impute meaning to the often Dadaist lyrics of the five original texts interpreted here. Paradoxically, this session was recorded before the other, and while 5x5 1.1=M doesn’t disappoint, TRIPLICATE seems that much more innovative and original.

Henry Threadgill and Braxton have also dabbled in vocal-oriented work, but here the words appear secondary to the soundsinging prowess exhibited by both vocalists. Lyric soprano Bruckmann also sings in cabaret and musical comedy settings and with the Oakland Lyric Opera, while tenor Guberman, is also a double bass player who has worked in one or the other role with British trombonist Gail Brand and local saxophonist Andrew Voigt. At times, the timbres of the linked vocals sound midway between what you’d hear at a New music recital and at a performance of an experimental off-Broadway musical. There are times however though that the soprano’s voice arches with such classical legitimacy that she could be understudying the lead role in Bellini’s “Norma”.

Bruckmann’s warbling soprano tones are put to good use on “Rita”, the final and longest — almost 14 minutes — track, which also has the shortest text. Dramatically vocalizing the atmospheric theme, she develops the tunes as the meshed polyphonic horns create near bagpipe tempos behind her.

After her voice meshes first with Tom Yoder’s sonorous trombone then Ingalls’s trilling clarinet, Guberman’s contributions include sluicing single syllables that turn into wild throat gurgles during the tune’s recapitulation. Combing tones, Bruckmann then twitters as Guberman seems to be alternately emulating reverent davening and Germanic double talk. Following an inventive drum solo from Robair — a favorite of reedists like Braxton and Briton John Butcher — every other player reenters for the climax. The initial theme is reprised with chromatic horn runs and close harmony from the vocalists.

Even more surrealistic is “Trainging long Hauling-Dazed” [sic]. Don’t even try to aurally follow the poetics. Instead concentrate on how the swelling and deflating vocal textures mesh with the lowing trombone line, irregular cymbal and drumbeats and smeared clarinet glissandi from both Ingalls and Plonsey. At certain points distinguishing the voices from among the contrapuntal percussion rumbles, trombone plunges and steady bass line is difficult. At points, Bruckmann cries and Guberman purrs, than a cappella appear to be reciting the alphabet. Rising up from beneath cow bell whacks, plunger trombone emphasis and trilled clarinet lines, Guberman gradually introduces scary monster-like cries, joined first by Bruckmann, then by double-stopped, spiccato bowing from Sperry and tongue stops from the horns.

Bedlam-like mumbles, operatic recital screams and undifferentiated high-pitched squeaks, spits and squeal from both singers are heard elsewhere. So are exaggerated plunger exercises from the brass plus overblowing and metallic whistles from the aviary-pitched reeds. That is, of course, when the chalumeau-pitched clarinets and heraldic trumpet and trombone aren’t allied into a resemblance to a medieval brass choir. Robair supplies cymbal sizzle and drum rolls as part of his output. At other points the versatile percussionist produces shimmering marimba accents or brief synthesizer oscillations.

His presence is germane to 5x5 1.1=M as is Sperry’s. In his foreshortened life — he was killed in a bicycle accident at 34 in 2003 — the bassist engendered as much respect for his skill from his contemporaries as another short-lived West Coast bassist — Scott LaFaro — did from his. Still, the biggest difference on 5x5 1.1=M is the absence of vocals and brass and the addition of Shiurba’s abrasive guitar licks, which often include full utilization of his distortion pedal.

What is off-putting however is the written GTM-like interludes that link each of the six compositions. Talented enough improvisers, the players don’t need these connective interjections that seem to exist on a contradictory plane than the other material.

For instance after the introductory harmonic blending at the top of “1.1.4”, the piece evolves through guitar reverb, scratched bass lines and scraped ratchet-like percussion tones. Soon, the flanged, finger picked guitar licks intersect with faint bagpipe-like sounds from Plonsey’s oboe, resting on top of more abrasive reed tones in broken counterpoint. As the oboe’s output takes on an Arabic mussette quality, and Ingalls produces slurred coloratura tones, Shiurba’s fuzztones and distortions get louder, and are joined by irregular drum pulses, screeching fiddle glissandi and woody spiccato bass. Sperry then creates ponticello double stops and clarinets twitter, while the fretman frails banjo-like timbres.

Screaming daxophone-reminiscent ejaculations, distortion pedal splashes and reverberating rock-like guitar lines are the leader’s contributions elsewhere. Oboe chirrups, chickadee peeping from higher-pitched reed and stentorian drum rumbles mix’n’match in other sections which are alternately ferocious or fey. Finally, the various instrumental tones coalesce for a recapitulation of earlier textures in “1.1.5”, a miniature coda and addendum. Before that however, real discontent sets in around the time of “1.1.2”, where quasi Braxtonian passages presage inward turning strings plus reed and percussion pulses that don’t seem to go anywhere. The only liveliness comes from buzz-saw amp noises.

Shiurba has proven his compositional talents with these releases. Considering both were recorded in 2002, one would expect that there are more surprises to be heard in his more recent music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 5x5: 1. Intro 2. 1.1.1 3. 1.1.2 4. 1.1.3 5. 1.1.4 6. 1.1.5

Personnel: 5x5: Matt Ingalls (clarinet and violin); Dan Plonsey (alto saxophone, alto clarinet, oboe and violin); John Shiurba (guitar); Matthew Sperry (bass); Gino Robair (percussion and violin)

Track Listing: Triplicate: 1. Adobe 2. Trainging long Hauling-Dazed 3. short reels 4. I Knew You Falling 5. Rita

Personnel: Triplicate: Tom Djill (trumpet); Tom Yoder (trombone); Matt Ingalls (B-clarinet); Dan Plonsey (alto saxophone, Eb clarinet, oboe and violin); Matthew Sperry (bass); Gino Robair (percussion, marimba and analog synthesizer); Lara Bruckmann and Morgan Guberman (voices); John Shiurba (conductor and composition)