Bow River Falls
Premonition Records KOCH CD 5744

Worlds Apart
Spool Line SPL124

Drummer Dylan van der Schyff and cellist Peggy Lee are the elements that connect these two sessions. With international reputations, — Lee having played with the Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro and American reedist Vinny Golia, while van der Schyff has worked with British saxist John Butcher and American cornetist Rob Mazurek — the Canadian husband and wife live in Vancouver, B.C., and have built their careers from there.

The Canadian West Coast has an abundance of known improvisers, clarinetist François Houle being another example — but like everywhere else the hometown scene can be a little comfortable and self-contained. You notice that on these two efforts, The tunes on WORLDS APART, mostly written by Lee and recorded with local musicians in her hometown lacks a certain spark. A livelier affair, BOW RIVER FALLS, recorded in the neighboring province of Alberta during the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in that city, matches up the West Coast couple with New York-based trumpeter Dave Douglas and Lyon, France-born clarinetist Louis Sclavis.

Both discs, however, suffer from an overabundance of tracks — nine on APART and 11 on FALLS — and a certain indefinable heavy-handed mournfulness in Lee’s cello playing detracts from the proceedings.

Additionally, the tracks on Lee’s solo disc often seem to range between overly pliable lullabies and excessively prissy rustic lines. The melancholy underlying the compositions is so strong that it seems to be heading for straight out depression.

Part of this may attributed to a lack of reed coloration. Brad Turner on trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn and Jeremy Berkman on trombone are the only horns, and frequently muted, they add to this bleak outlook. So do the other two — or in some cases three — string players. Electric and acoustic bassist André Lechance, and guitarist Tony Wilson, who has recorded with Houle, are on every track. Ron Samworth, of Vancouver’s NOW Orchestra who was in the Talking Pictures band with the cellist and drummer, is added on four. Capable of mood swings elsewhere, the two plectrumists also appear a bit too fond of the sort of spacey, restrained licks that have characterized Bill Frisell since his ECM tenure.

Weakest of the pieces is “Spells”, which suggests Lee is revisiting her folk-rock childhood. With a strummed double guitar lead reminiscent of Wishbone Ash — or maybe Peter, Paul & Mary — Blood, Sweat & Tears-era horn charts and heavy accented rock drumming, the end product is pretty poppy. “Beekeeper’s Club” isn’t that much better. Here Wilson and Samworth are in country and western mode, with double thumbed guitar licks meeting Clark’s prissy muted trumpet cadenzas. Could this be a close cousin to a pavan?

Better, but still no world-beaters, are tunes like “A Door” and “Retacing2”. The first, weighing in at almost 9½-minutes gives everyone some room. There are understated flams and bounces from van der Schyff, scratchy guitar runs, shaded trumpet patterns and lower case trombone accompaniment — all very polite, even when Lechance produces a thump from his bass. It could be more leichen musik or funeral sounds, though.

Moody as well, “Retacing2” does have a sul ponticello cello lead that introduces a similar theme from the trumpet and drums. But even this shimmering performance sounds a little tired, with no one really standing out.

When the quartet on the other disc performs its version of “Retacing2” you could swear it was an entirely different piece of music. Here van der Schyff offers up a penetrating back beat while Lee’s walking cello lines presage unison horn work. Soon Sclavis’ lower-pitched clarinet is marching up the scale producing overtone vibrations that are finally resolved with a muted trumpet line and softer focused horns.

“Window”, another Lee composition, which may be related to “A Door” on the other CD also has more oomph to it than all of her writing on WORLDS. With van der Schyff supplying expanded crackles and pseudo birdcalls from his laptop, these overtones meet up with offhanded scrapes from cello, whistles from the clarinet and floating tremolo notes from trumpet. Eventually the performance remakes itself as a pastoral moderato line. Perhaps Sclavis and Douglas cured Lee of her melancholia. For while many of the tunes here are gentle — some may say a bit too gentle — most of them have the intestinal fortitude lacking on the other disc.

Sclavis’ “Dernier Regard/Vol”, for instance, is a pseudo gypsy line that may have reminded Douglas of his experiments in that era with his Balkan-inflected Tiny Bell Trio. Here he contributes high-pitched wah wahs that meld perfectly with the composer’s speedy, double-tongued reed playing. Patting and pumping, van der Schyff adds an understated drum solo and Lee’s cello introduces a French-style gigue before the theme is recapitulated.

“Petals”, from Douglas’ pen, offers up more muted trumpet spewing out grace notes with a Latinesque feel. Ambulatory, measured drum beats accompany broken counterpoint from Sclavis’ clarinet, then the reedman turns French funky, breaking up the time as he produces sluicing jittering tones. Douglas’ own solo is a variation on this. He’s probably used to atonal reed work from his time working with John Zorn in Masada.

The entire company is free enough to attempt an instant composition in “Dark Water”. Featuring clattering cymbals, double stopping cello lines and clarinet slurs, it sounds as if someone is literally bird whistling behind Douglas’ extended note twisting.

Swelling, deceptively simple melodies predominate on this outing as well, but the professionalism of all concerned add some heft and even jauntiness to the output. FALLS is actually little more than a pleasant meeting of equals. But it won’t plunge you into a something resembling clinical depression the way WORLD may.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Worlds: 1. Worlds Part* 2. Soft Scrape 3. Retacing2 4. Spells* 5. First Spin 6. Old One Knows 7. Beekeeper’s Club* 8. A Door 9. Lookout*

Personnel: Worlds: Brad Turner (trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn); Jeremy Berkman (trombone); Peggy Lee (cello); Tony Wilson and Ron Samworth* (electric and acoustic guitars); André Lechance (electric and acoustic basses); Dylan van der Schyff (drums)

Track Listing: Falls: 1. Blinks 2. Bow River Falls 3. Fete Forraine 4. Window 5. Maputo 6. Petals 7. Retracing 2 8. Dernier Regard/Vol 9. Woman at Point Zero 10. Dark Water 11. Paradox

Personnel: Falls: Dave Douglas (trumpet); Louis Sclavis (clarinet and bass clarinet); Peggy Lee (cello); Dylan van der Schyff (drums and laptop)