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Quirkiest of the Netherlands’ collection of third generation improvisers, Amsterdam-based keyboardist Cor Fuhler strives to advance beyond the admixture of new classical, jazz and cabaret sound that characterize Dutch improv, especially when created by its best-known practitioners – Misha Mengelberg’s ICP Orchestra and Willem Breuker’s Kollektief.

Fuhler, who studied counterpoint with Mengelberg, has long dabbled in electronics, as well, adding string stimulators, self-made modifications and antiquated electronic keyboards to his presentations. Here, using the talents of his nine-piece so-called Corkestra, he intertwines unique electronic oscillations with timbres from expected – saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass, guitar – and unexpected – cymbalom, singing saw and hammer dulcimer – instruments. Reminiscent of some of John Zorn’s game pieces, he also divides the ensemble into sub-groups, while handing them a collection of riffs, vamps, and melody lines.

Top-flight improvisers, the band includes ICPer Ab Baars and Available Jelly’s Tobias Delius on saxophones and clarinets, contemporary classical flautist Anne La Berge, Ex guitarist Andy Moor, Necks percussionist Tony Buck, bassist Wilbert de Joode and traps man Michael Vatcher who work with everyone, plus cymbalom player Nora Mulder. Given the Fuhler motifs, the players then assemble, combine and superimpose solos and riffs on them, helping the pianist to create group or solo real time performances.

The result, recorded live, creates responses that run from admiration to queasiness. Sometimes the instant compositions sound like cartoon music from the Netherlands, other times like field recordings from some unknown country. Ruefully a few tunes resemble little more than a set of aural ingredients lobbed into a mixing bowl, but not given enough bonding material to set properly into an admirable form.

Regretfully Fuhler has also fallen victim to the more-is-more concept. Little damage would have been done to CORKESTRA by cutting out some of the 11 tracks and beefing up some of the others. At points it appears as if certain sounds, timbres or instruments are included because they were present in the studio rather than used to build up the musical interface.

Manipulating tonal vibrations from his organ, clavinet or piano, Fuhler can blend with either the oddball or the conventional instruments. The resulting generated textures thus resemble, on different tracks, the background music for the antics of perverted marionettes – he has written musical-theatre pieces – straight MOR sounds with massive organ tremolos swelling on top – Jimmy Smith he ain’t – or incidental big top music from a calliope.

Somehow vague Balkan inflections inhabit the tracks as well, no doubt brought forward by Vatcher hammered dulcimer and Mulder’s tabletop zither. But these are never overriding motifs, neither are the intimation of European mandolin bands created by spiccato, chromatic chording from Moor and DeJoode. Alternately, when all the string and pseudo string players unite, the abrasive effect is often that of sharp-teethed mice chewing on the music and the instruments – one octave at a time. More frequently the bassist lets loose with a vigorous crossbow-like twang, confirming his simultaneous foreground and background status. Distorted guitar flanging is at a minimum as well –

Moor is a group player, not a showoff. When it does appear, it’s in concordance with trebly electric piano fills.

Lack of brass means that when kiddie show-like marches appear they’re conveyed by clattering bounces from the two percussionists and soaring honks and smears from the two tenor saxophonists. Otherwise the saxophonists – inventive players both – are shamefully kept under wraps. More prominence is given to the clarinets combined in counterpoint with the flute for focused moderato cadences, accompanied by low- frequency organ licks.

For her part the flutist’s output ranges from high-pitched contrapuntal peeps to one section of a two-part composition where the pauses between her legato output, mixed with a bass drum march tempo and harpsichord-like fills suggests one of those instructive Meet the Orchestra compositions for children. Fuhler also performs the odd piano intermezzo, but is this a glimpse of post-modernism or burlesque?

What is apparent is that the one overtly electronic piece sounds like nothing more than loops of fluttering, shrilling sine wave that pitiably coalesce into a jello-like mass.

With as much to celebrate as condemn, CORKESTRA can charm Fuhler followers and be welcomed with cautious praise by others. Time for a studio session, Cor.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Zand I 2. Triangle Sun 3. Green Peppers 4. Zwerfduin 5. Lollipops/Woestijntrol 6. Dromedaris 7. Cosinus 8. Zand II 9. Zout I 10. Rockpool 11. Water Supply

Personnel: Ab Baars and Tobias Delius (tenor saxophones and clarinets); Anne La Berge (flutes); Cor Fuhler (organ, clavinet and piano); Andy Moor (guitar); Nora Mulder (cymbalom); Wilbert de Joode (bass); Tony Buck (percussion); Michael Vatcher (percussion, singing saw and hammer dulcimer)