WellSprings Suite
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1176

Made up of two generations of accomplished improvisers, Quintet Moderne is an all-star European Union aggregation that adapts the conventions of so-called jazz and so-called serious music to its own ends. This way, as it shows on this more-than-69-minute CD, it produces a suite of breathtaking force, encompassing musical complexity – yet accessible to any but the most hidebound.

One of those on-again-off-again grouping, Quintet Moderne consists of two Finns, one German, one musician from the United Kingdom and another whose background encompasses the U.K. and Uganda. Senior players are trombonist Paul Rutherford of the U.K., (born 1940), known for his membership in groups like Iskra 103 and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, and Finnish bassist Teppo Hauta-aho, (born 1941), whose experience encompasses work with Cecil Taylor and philharmonic orchestras in Helsinki and elsewhere.

A generation younger – at least by EuroImprov standards – are self-taught German drummer Paul Lovens, (born 1949), a longtime associate of British saxist Evan Parker, and soprano saxophone Harri Sjöström, (born 1952), who has also recorded with Taylor. In the centre of all this is Ugandan/Briton Phil Wachsmann, (born 1944), on violin, viola and electronics, who has played in modern chamber settings, with Parker and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, among many, many other gigs. Adding to the Eurocentricism of this live session are the acoustics of the castle in Prague, Czech Republic, where the set was recorded.

Despite the classical roots of a couple of the participants and the jazz background of others, there’s no doubt this is fundamentally a Free Music session. Except for a four-minute encore that’s a spontaneous explosion of saxophone tonguing, crackling drum slaps, abrasive string perforations and echoing trombone slurs, the major sections are shaped by group cooperation. This prevents any texture to fracture into mere instrumental panning. Furthermore, although complex tonal colors often bush up against one another, they don’t quite meld, so there’s enough dissonance and distance in the performance to make things interesting. “WellSprings” isn’t really a quintet performance either. As well as five men playing, very often each musician operates in a singular space, splitting or combining for duos, trios and quartets.

Senior statesman Rutherford is the most vocal of the soloists – expansive and expressive through most of the CD, using grace notes and chromatic convergence to advance his ideas. Still, if slathered sidebands of trombone burrs become too overpowering, you can count on tiny, unselected cymbal rattles and gong-banging from Lovens, or staccato sul tasto comments from one or another of the string players to level the turf.

Notwithstanding the band’s moderated double, triple and quadruple counterpoint, each voice also uniquely makes its own statement. At one point, for example, Sjöström produces trilling, hummingbird-like overtones that reference classical horn music. Yet this is done in concert with the trombonist’s elephantine trills that sound as if they’re boomeranging off the dry castle walls. At another point the saxist’s tongue slaps bring up mouthpiece osculation from the trombonist until both timbres melt away behind thin, chromatic picking from the fiddler and string, belly and rib thumps from the cellist.

Initially, double counterpoint legato lines are a feature of the second and longest section. Surprisingly, these connections come from Lovens’ ride cymbal action and Sjöström’s thick, garbled vibrations. Next, Rutherford produces a rubato, alp-horn-like slur, first echoed by the soprano saxophone, then, as his pitch deepens, by sul tasto knocks from the strings and splattered cymbal and wooden block rumbles from the drummer. Writhing, electronic whistling from Wachsmann’s strings is most prevalent here, although this foray into electronica must take its place alongside finger-picking dissonant tones as if the two string players are using ukuleles. Midway through, Lovens resounds focused paradiddles and shattering cymbal splatters to countermand Rutherford’s full-boded tones.

As the trombonist puffs out longer tones, Sjöström’s overblowing turns to irregular vibrations as sequenced, electronic loops add to the sound field. Climax is unison cacophony, which allows arpeggio string reverb to serve as the foundation upon which first Rutherford’s stentorian slurs and Sjöström’s trilling obbligatos are displayed. A descending postlude of pizzicato plucking and drum shuffles behind constant ‘bone blasts serves as the finale.

With exceptional sessions like this one created when they get together, it’s too bad the members of Quintet Moderne don’t have more opportunities to record.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. WellSprings 1 2. WellSprings 2 3. WellSprings 3

Personnel: Paul Rutherford (trombone); Harri Sjöström (soprano saxophone); Phil Wachsmann (violin, viola and electronics); Teppo Hauta-aho (bass); Paul Lovens (drums, selected cymbals and saw)