PIERRE FAVRE

Saxophones
Intakt CD 093

SCHWIMMER
7X4X7
Creative Sources cs013

Superficially, it would seem that the chief difference between the reed-and-percussion sessions that makes up SAXOPHONES and 7X4X7 is that the former includes a tuba player and one additional reedist.

Not so fast — the conception and execution of these two CDs is so antithetical that they could come from completely different musical planets. Led by veteran Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre, SAXOPHONES is on the formal side of the improv world. It alternates readings of his compositions by the complete ensemble including the ARTE (saxophone) Quartett (sic) with tracks that showcase the drummer’s extraordinary solo traps work. Berlin-based Schwimmer, on the other hand, is a reductionist combo concerned with organization of sounds in space on the border of inaudibility.

Committed to choir-like harmonies, the classically oriented ARTE Quartett has collaborated with other jazz improvisers like American saxophonist Tim Berne and Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber. French tubaist Michel Godard has worked in similar chamber situations with countrymen cellist Vincent Courtois and Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg. One of Switzerland’s earliest free players, Favre has a longtime musical relationship with Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer, as well as many Italian, German and French players such as Godard.

The cast of characters on 7X4X7 represents a younger generation most stimulated by the differences between sound and silences. Milan-born soprano saxophonist Alessandro Bosetti plays with other microtonalists like American saxist Bhob Rainey and German prepared guitarist Annette Krebs. Munich-born flautist Sabine Vogel moves between New music, pop and a duo with Australian drummer Tony Buck. Clarinetist Michael Thieke has worked with American jazzers like drummer Jim Black plus reductionists like trumpeter Axel Dörner, who also plays with Bosetti. Nuremberg-born drummer Michael Griener has the widest experience, with gigs ranging from backing up mainstream jazz guitarist Herb Ellis to playing with Dörner.

Ellis’ licks will be the farthest thing from your mind on 7X4X7 however. If the longtime Oscar Peterson sideman’s leitmotif is bluesy swing, then Schwimmer’s is a shrill, almost ear-splitting tone that for 10 to 15 seconds at a time emanates from one or two of the reeds, pushing past dog-whistle territory into the realm of discomfort.

This happens most frequently on track four, though with all the piece about the same length, the piercing tone is about all that distinguishes it from the others, since all coalesce into one piece of absolute microtonal sound.

In between these shrill ear canal invasions as well as a feline hisses and simple puffs from the reeds, are extended screw tightening noises from Griener that lead to direct hits on cow bells, hollow wood blocks and rattling maracas. Although the occasional bounce, flam and press roll is heard, most of the drummer’s conception is as involved with extended techniques, as the reedists are. Among his creations are prolonged scratches on the ride cymbal top with a drum stick, a crumpling newspaper sound and extended timbres that result from using a wire brush for swizzle stick-like motions on parts of his kit.

Not to be outdone, the horns produce throat growls from within their body tubes, Bronx cheers, reed smears, tongue slaps, the sound of saxophone bells muted against trouser legs, hisses, irregular vibrations, key percussion false fingering and flattement. Squeaking mouse tones and chickadee squeals also arise in the flute and penny whistle-like textures from the clarinet. Combing in double or triple, often broken octaves, one reed can resonate with busy wasp stings, while the other produces deep throat gurgles. Together, triple counterpoint gives the three a wider, more dissonant sound, melding and increasing in intensity until all pitchslide into polyharmonic glissandi. Meanwhile, Griener repeatedly scrapes his cymbals.

Overall, the most distinctive — and most frequent oral technique from the reedists — is also the simplest: billowing pure colored air through the body tube without moving the instrument’s keys. The result can be a wisp, a gargle or a subterranean roar, at intervals accompanied by compact bell-ringing tones.

This reed group is most concerned with the atonal extensions and diatonic discord available with the horns. The classically oriented Arte Quartett, on the other disc, is most involved with reed choir harmonies.

Although other tracks may show off the quartet’s gorgeous dabs of close harmony to better effect, it’s on the more than 11-minute “Anecdote”, where everything falls into place. The composition extends the pulse created by Favre with hard felt tympani mallets on the floor tom and tambourine shakes from the hi-hat, with polyphonic meshed saxophone line and focused tuba blats. Slowed down to adagio, the pace then picks up when the higher-pitches reeds meet tuba pedal point and split apart following Favre’s irregular beats. Beat Hofstetter’s soprano saxophone then twitters and trills, Sascha Armbruster’s alto draws out a straight line and Godard plays descending triplets.

In response, the percussionist showcases ratcheting bounces and cymbal splashes, which precedes the horns meshing into a jolly jig-like interface deepened by brassy pedal point blasts. With Favre sounding as if his drum polyrhythms come from barehanded pressure, the soprano sax shrills out some double-tongued atonal lines until all combine for a march-like finish.

Buzzing cymbal textures introduce resolute, massed four-part harmonies on “Passages”, with the Arte Quartett members functioning like the interconnected parts of a Swiss watch. This polyharmony also serves as a buffer for Godard’s most impressive showing — moving andante as he builds up the multi-colored, low-pitched shades of his horn. Favre’s drumbeat is there, but is so subtle that not one of the sweet sounds is disrupted.

Versatile inventiveness characterize the veteran percussionist’s solo tracks, which of course are part of percussion DNA that that feeds younger traps men like Schwimmer’s Griener. During the course of those displays, Favre uses tympani mallets, brushes and drum sticks to create tones that include prestissimo patterns on tubular bells, an underlay of snare rumbles, rattles on bell trees and tam tams, isolated nerve beats, bongo drum intimations and flams on steel-drum-like tuned snares.

Sounds that resemble nakers or small medieval kettledrums appear as do lathed cymbal snaps and resonation that could come from circular saw motions. Don’t forget as well that Favre can also easily play a swing beat.

Approaching percussion and reeds from different angles, these fine CDs highlight the tremendous variety of what gets classed as so-called jazz or improvised music. It’s the listeners who benefit from this versatility.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Saxophones: 1. Sito 2. Solar Wheel 3. Music 4 & 7 4. Stampede 5. Anecdote 6. Les Jeux Sont Fait 7. Lea 8. Options 9. Passages 10. Hippopotamus 11. Saxophones

Personnel: Saxophones: Michel Godard (tuba and serpent); Pierre Favre (drums and percussion); Arte Quartett: Beat Hofstetter (soprano saxophone); Sascha Armbruster (alto saxophone); Andrea Formenti (tenor saxophone); Beat Kappeler (baritone saxophone)

Track Listing: 7X4X7: 1. #1 2. #2 3. #3 4. #4 5. #5 6. #6 7. #7

Personnel: 7X4X7: Sabine Vogel (flute); Michael Thieke (clarinet); Alessandro Bosetti (soprano saxophone); Michael Griener (percussion)