Three Planets

Trio for the 21st Century, this pan-European effort involves musicians from three countries, not three planets. Encompassing instruments from the folk, classical and jazz traditions, the nearly-79-minute CD is actually as material as it is metaphysical.

Common point of congruence is a disinclination to play traditional instruments in a traditional manner, but with no reliance on amplification or other electronics. Still with Free Improvisation heading towards a nearly 50 year history, little of what the three do should sound freakish to the sophisticated listener.

Eldest of the group is London-based guitarist John Russell, who has been playing this sort of non- hierarchical music with the likes of pianist Chris Burns and reedists John Butcher and Evan Parker since the early 1970s, or around the time violinist Mathieu Werchowski was born.

In the years since then, the Grenoble, France native has provided music for a dance-performance and a circus company as well as improvising with Continental players such as reedists Bertrand Denzler and Xavier Charles and tape manipulators Lionel Marchetti and Jérôme Noetinger. About a decade younger than one partner and 10 years older than the other, Ute Völker of Wuppertal, Germany is one of those musicians pushing and pulling the accordion away from its naive background. To this end, she’s improvised with musical explorers such as saxophonist Michel Doneda and bassist Peter Jacquemyn.

Mostly linear in their improvisations, the three mesh microtonalism, pantonality and meiosis with slabs of mangled traditionalism and pure silences. Speed is often on show, and while there are points where, as in all Free Music, linking a sound to an instrument is impossible, never do you forget that Russell and Werchowski’s axes both have steel strings.

Werchowski’s tone is versatile enough to create something that could come from a mezzo soprano’s throat, while Völker’s squeeze box reeds can resemble those whispered by a chromatic harmonica or the glissandi of a clarinet. With the accordion timbres also often used as pedal point, near church organ continuum in several cases, Russell’s work retains habitual BritImprov strategy — sharp finger picking beneath the bridge for strident tones, frailing top-of-string strokes for power, and string loosening plus offbeat fingering for more adventurous asides.

Together the three can be crafty as well, interrupting what could be a Morris Dancing country ballad from the accordion with screeched double stops from the fiddle that almost splits the strings into nodes. Ponticello bites that reconstitute themselves into parakeet-like twitters arise at intervals from the strings, while bouncy ployharmonic vibrations often jiggle from the accordion.

One example of this is “Zum Dreispiel”, which for all the world seems to begin with nose-blowing noises. Völker then contributes high-frequency dynamics and Russell percussive beats as Werchowski snakes a high-pitch theme around the other two. Soon his buzzing strings come in and out of focus as the front space is taken up with elongated accordion riffs and harsh guitar pummeling. Wasp-buzzing spiccato from the fiddle subsequently distorts the theme, then the leakage of sounds from the strings and the accordion bellows gradually gets fainter and dissolves into silence.

Rhythmically loose at the top, as if it was a real blues, “Little Litotes Blues” features accordion squeezes, fiddle spiccato and strummed textures from the guitar that meld into pointillistic polyphony. United, the murmurs, buzzes and scrapes could be coming from a Depression Era country string band like perhaps, the Mississippi Sheiks, especially when Vöker replicates a freight train-like rumble. Modernity soon intrudes in the form of Russell’s slurred fingering and animal-like scratches on the guitar face. Sine wave oscillations hang over the proceeding as well — pseudo-electronic created acoustically.

When the accordionist introduce a fragment of an Eastern European-style melody, shrill fiddle squeals and taunt string nips from the other two, mature the line to post-modernism. Thoroughly POMO, here Werchowski’s tone duplicates that of a high-pitched reed, likely scraping away without resining the bow. Eventually the accordion swells to a crescendo, introducing deeper, darker and more slurred lines, which contrast deliberately with the polyrhythmic scrapes from the string players. Reaching a pulsating climate where the squeezebox sounds like a Model T’s motor turning over on a cold day, Völker accelerates his tones with portamento, then pulls back and lets them resonate.

Nearly 79 minutes of trio music may be too much for many. But taken in small doses, THREE PLANETS provides much pleasure for those whose capacity for improvisation accommodates encompass guitar, violin — and even accordion.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Pellegrini’s Players 2. Warum Nicht? 3. Achilles heals 4. Little Litotes Blues 5. Par Ensemble 6. Three Planets 7. Fletch’n’Sketch 8. Zum Dreispiel 9. Musique Pour Un Parapluie Perdu 10. Pachyderm’s Canon 11. Seeing as how you said it so elegantly the answer is...

Personnel: Mathieu Werchowski (violin); John Russell (guitar); Ute Völker (accordion)