The Williamsburg Sonatas
Wallace Records 55

Back in the days when everyone from the baseball playing Dodgers to tenor saxophonists Dave Liebman and pianist Randy Weston left Brooklyn for greener pastures, who ever figured that New York City’s first suburb would become so celebrated?

Yet as rents continue to soar in Manhattan, an entire generation of artists has set up shop across the river, bringing new clubs and art spaces with them. Now here’s the second recent improv CD that celebrates the second borough – the first was Gold Sparkle Trio (GST)’s BROOKLYN CANTOS. Like Atlanta natives the GST, none of the players here is a native Brooklynite – or even American born. As a matter of fact only one, Vienna-born drummer Lukas Ligeti even lives in New York now, the other two live in Italy.

While the CD title may have more to do with the location of the recording studio in the borough’s Williamsburg section than anything else, the eight instant compositions reflect the cultural congruence you can find near the justly famous bridge.

Someone whose background encompasses jazz, avant-rock, contemporary composition and cultural exchanges with players from the Caribbean, Egypt and Africa, Ligeti eases that experience into his playing. Massimo Pupillo is an electric bass player with the Italian noise rock band Zu, who has collaborated with everyone from avant folkie Eugene Chadbourne to former Can singer Damo Suzuki, not to mention Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark. Luckily his baggage here includes the rhythm, but not the stultifying beat of pop music. Meanwhile, Sicilian alto saxophonist Gianni Gebbia is a Free Jazz player, who adapts the musical sounds of the Mediterranean to his work with his own bands and alliances advanced with fellow improvisers in locales such as California’s Bay area.

Working in a style that partially takes from Ornette Coleman as well as seaside balladeers, the alto saxophonist invest these tunes with techniques that range from tongue stops and altissimo smears to pitch-vibrated growls and smeared flutter tonguing. At times you may pick up references to “Blue Monk” and “Focus on Sanity” as well as plainer Sicilian chants.

Ligeti’s accompaniment encompasses ruffs, bounces, strokes and drags. He can sound a backbeat as well as any rocker; introduce unique timbres from drum tops, claves and wood blocks that relate to the beats advanced from so-called primordial players; or alter stick-on-stick pulses and rim shots to resemble the inventions of musique concrète.

Ranging from R&B-style thumb pops, claw-hammer frailing, rhythmic strums and jazzy fills, Pupillo’s electric bass style provides whatever pulse is necessary for each tune. Somehow capable of producing arco-like wave forms, as a rule he mostly confides himself to time-keeping, allowing the other two foreground freedom. Making the most of this, the saxophonist undulates straight lines, squeals with glottal punctuation, pushes almost-inaudible air through his bell and negotiates unvarying tongue stops.

Climax comes with the almost 10-minute “Some Disordered Interior Geometrics”. With the bassist holding straight to the centre with ringing tones, the piece unrolls in a welter of surging sax lines and cross-patterning from the percussion. Briefly straying into ethnic music, Pupillo sounds timbres that could come from a lotar or Berber lute, as Gebbia completes the incursion in similar non-Western fashion. Expelling snaky obbligatos and tongue slaps at the same time, he manages to express the exposition and its development simultaneously.

With more use of the location than the sonata’s classic form, the three have managed to produce a memorable CD.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Ararchytecture 2. Pay for Soup. Build a Fort. Set That on Fire 3. Some Disordered Interior Geometrics 4. Hollenberg Pony Express 5. Golf? No Sir! Prefer Prison Flog 6. The Vertical Journey 7. Logic of the Birds 8. Hollywood, Palermo

Personnel: Gianni Gebbia (alto saxophone); Massimo Pupillo (electric bass) and Lukas Ligeti (drums)