André Goudbeek/Peter Jacquemyn/Peter Kowald/Jeffrey Morgan

Dubbel Duo
Konnex Peter Kowald/Alberto Braida/Gincarlo Locatelli
Free Elephant

By Ken Waxman
July 17, 2005

Peter Kowald’s sudden death at 58 in 2002 deeply affected many other experimental players, since the bassist from Wuppertal, Germany was one of the few to have established himself as a true world musician. As likely to be playing with local improvisers on traditional instruments in Tokyo as with Free Jazz saxophonists and drummers in New York, Kowald had an enviable reputation as someone who could and would work himself into any musical situation, whether it be jazz, New music, traditionally oriented sounds or anything in between.

Adding to his already large discography, death seemed to potentially move the bass man into Elvis Presley territory: new CDs featuring him still appear regularly. That’s OK, because unlike Elvis, Kowald didn’t knowingly record substandard work. Both CDs are examples of his versatility. Dubbel Duo is a full out Free Jazz session – note the echo of Ornette Coleman’s double quartet in the title – while Aria, as is suggested by its title, is more New music-y. Kowald’s final studio session, Aria features austere chamber-like work in a trio with pianist Alberto Braida and clarinetist Giancarlo Locatelli, both of Milan, who usually operate in the middle ground between improvised and notated music.

Kowald’s partners on the other CD are fellow bassist Peter Jacquemayn of Brakel, Belgium, Dutch-born, Belgium-based reedist André Goubeek, and Cologne-based, American expatriate saxophonist Jeffrey Morgan. Dubbel Duo includes six duo variations among its 13 tracks, Aria features eight trio tracks, with the others much shorter solo features for either Braida or Locatelli.

Solo, each Italian revels in extended techniques. Note the harsh, mechanized almost prepared piano fantasia Braida creates with his fourth ‘Cantus”. Mostly stopped string action, it intensifies an automated timbre from the soundboard and climaxes with heavy pounding on the bass keys. Similarly, on his first “Cantus”, Locatelli resonates a secondary tone from his horn’s body tube intermingling it with an almost uncomfortably shrill primary reed line.

Interaction as well as virtuosity is the focus of the eight trio tracks though – four, widely spaced variations and four connected, longer tunes, entitled “Ricercar I, II, III and IV” and named for contrapuntal compositions popular from the 16th to 18th century. At proper recital length of slightly more than 23 minutes, the suite begins with Kowald’s arco comments on the close-breathed, John Butcher-like smears and short chalumeau vibrations from the clarinetist. With Braida contributing staid and unshowy piano chording, the bassist establishes the next variation with spinning spiccato.

“Ricercar II”, the almost seven minute centrepiece of the session, features Kowald’s mid-range resonating plucks that delineates walking bass in a less prosaic manner. Meanwhile Locatelli’s tongued note patterning emulates the bass sounds. Underscoring both are stopped-action pitches from Braida. Throughout, the bassist’s pace is andante, while the others move slightly quicker. Legato surging and descending bass patterning make the next variation connective tissue between the preceding tracks and “Ricercar IV”. Kowald’s tones echo Death Valley deep as Locatelli’s clarinet expels woody peeps.

Finally, the fourth connection moves the three deep into classically oriented territory, with broken chords symbolizing each going his separate way for a time, then melding with the others. Again, clattering, almost-prepared piano tones take up the composition’s bottom as Locatelli and Kowald vibrate diatonic nodes. Irregular patterning and agitato bowing characterize the clarinet and bass parts until the tune splits into three polychromic sections: low-pitched bass sul ponticello, mid-range piano cadenzas and high-pitched clarinet beeps.

Interaction on the same level is apparent on the trio’s other “Variations”, with Braida’s output ranging from low frequency arpeggios to resonating soundboard dissonance, key clips and plucked tones that could come from a harpsichord. Locatelli produces tongue slaps, barely-there colored air expelling and engorged harmonica-like tones. Kowald bounces his bow on top of the strings or strums the four as if he was playing the bottom portion of a 12-string guitar.

What isn’t heard on Aria but is often present on Dubbel Duo are the shamanistic rasping throat echoes Kowald often vocalizes as he plays. Associating them with stentorian double bass twangs voiced in a similar fashion, creates his version of Swing Era bassist Slam Stewart’s humming and plucking. Distinctive, on this CD the improvisation tick encourages Jacquemayn, who as a sculptor manipulates clay as well as bass strings, to distort his vocal chords in a similar manner.

This happens on one of the two bass double duos. Both pitchslide and scrape timbres from their strings. But one – Jacquemayn? – pitter-patters his notes, while the other appears to be applying a sharp knife to fishing wire to expose properly harsh tones.

The other duos are even more original. “Flapjack Blues” an outwardly directed, vibrating blues, finds Morgan’s glottal punctuation and reed-biting saxophone fills adding emotion to Kowald’s steady sawing, measured accompaniment. “Forgotten message” is brief – less than three minutes – and beautiful, with Goubeek’s emphatic bass clarinet tincture lower-pitched than the guttural murmurs and almost physically-present rustling form the bassist.

Nonetheless the CD is called Dubbel Duo for a reason. Like Coleman’s double quartet or saxophonist Glenn Spearman’s double trio, the intention is to produce as many variations in tone and timbre as can be imagined with similar instruments. Jacquemayn cheats a bit however, appending the crescendos of his accordion-like bandoneon to cushion the stark dissonance of the others. Played in a bouncy, Italianesque matter the squeeze box action softens the rough edges of spiccato, woody bass lines and harsh altissimo reed shrieks.

Putting aside guttural vocalizing and squeezed timbres, the four distinguish themselves – and distinguish individual textures – through the unique personality of singular and collective improvising.

“Side Streets in the Kasbah” for instance, reaches a point midway through when Jacquemayn’s formerly close-mouthed alto work suddenly spews out a bugle-like fanfare that’s picked up by Morgan who works his own variations on it. As the two reshape raw notes in turn – ending with a finale of harmonic interchanges – the double double basses keep up an undercurrent of sweeping sul tasto.

Similarly, “Romancing a Blue Whale, Parts 1 & 2”, gains its distinctiveness and odd title from the minutes of silence that fragment the two musical sections. Mouth shrieks and tonal squeezes then return as high-pitched aviary tones, elevated many degrees past bird-whistle territory, but extended, as they are in the first section, by an elegant, concentrated bottom from the bull fiddles, powerful and unvarying enough to suggest sequenced loops.

In the right company Kowald’s versatile individuality and powerful compatibility were properly showcased on disc. Different as night and day – or Belgium and Italy – these sessions capture two of these instances.