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Freely improvised trio performances by two trios, each including a saxophonist and a bassist on micro-labels continue to point out the differences between European –

in this case German – and American sound explorers. Although both call on the tenets of minimalism and so-called New Music, the Yanks still have a tincture of jazz in their playing, replaced by electro-acoustic musings when it come to the Teutons.

Kainkwatett is the Berlin-based trio. It’s made up of bassist Axel Haller, who also works with dancers and theatre groups; Antoine Chessex, of the noise band Monno, who doesn’t list which saxophone he plays, though it sounds like an alto; and guitarist Torsten Papenheim, who also work in a pop-noise duo Rant. The later two weren’t even born until the 1980s.

Slightly older, though not by much, the Brooklyn-based trio on RED, a one-track mini-CD, include percussionist Jeff Arnal, who has his own Berlin connection in a group featuring German composer/pianist Dietrich Eichmann and alto saxophonist Lars Scherzberg. Longtime collaborator with choreographers, Arnal is involved in notated and improvised music as are the other two players. Alto saxophonist Seth Misterka was a member of Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Ensemble, among other bands, while bassist Chris Dahlgren is in Braxton’s present sextet and has worked with everyone from boppers to the Jazz Mandolin Project. There are no signs of either of those influences on RED, which is 15 minutes plus of free improv.

From the beginning though, variations on the jazz bedrock are introduced. Following the squeak of drum stick on ride cymbal, ngoni-like plucks from the bass, and the sound of colored air being forced through the sax’s body tube, Arnal often appears to be thumping a kettle drum. As the piece develops, Misterka’s tone lightens and takes on Arabic connotations, followed by resonation from the drummer’s large unlathed cymbal. Deviating from the straight and narrow, the saxophonist begins vibrating his axe’s upper partials, presaging complementary prestissimo action from the drums and spiccato from the bass. Eventually as the bass lines drone and Arnal’s rim shots and nerve beats spike the kit, the reedist turns to glossolalia, reaching a climax of bagpipe-chanter style intensity. Joined for a time by an arco bass buzz, Misterka then constructs variation on the theme from a sandpaper thick reed texture. Kettledrum bounces and scouring noises from the bass strings, encourage a final series of reed twirls and double tonguing, with so many overtones that the saxophonist could be channeling both Trane and Pharoah. With Misterka seemingly spent, the finale involves quick drum rumbles and arco bass sweeps.

Kainkwatett the band, doesn’t have a percussionist but the clangs and flanges from Papenheim’s guitar and the concentrated echo from Haller’s bass – that resemble some of Ellen Fullman’s long string instrument inventions – make up for that. Probably through the properties of Papenheim’s amp, sinuous loops and ringing electro-acoustic interface animate the seven tracks here. Additionally, while Misterka’s reed variations may reflect the jazz advances of Trane and his followers, Chessex’s closest parallel is to the fluttering distortions, colored air expelling and circular breathing of the Evan Parker school, unless tongue slaps are now considered a jazz affectation.

That’s the macro part of the sound. Drawing equally on microtonalism, the trio builds themes out of claw-hammer string clicks, steady bass drones, burbling single notes and protracted silences. Other time an entire improvisation takes place as a spinning top-like mechanized pulse quivers below. Often operating in double or triple broken chords, output slows down for mechanized cross feeds, some of which take on protracted windshield wiper sounds or those of bubbling loops.

All this reaches a climax with the almost-10-minute sixth track, where gong-like clangs, concentrated drones and oscillating arpeggios share aural space with reed exhortations, harsh, laconic plectrum plinks and a final sul tasto expansion from Haller. Having reached minimalism’s nadir, teeny metallic plinks appear then fade to silence.

Continental Europe and North America may be superficially drawing together, but when it comes to improv, major differences in approach still exist.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Red: 1. Red

Personnel: Red: Seth Misterka (alto saxophone); Chris Dahlgren (bass); Jeff Arnal (percussion)

Track Listing: Kainkwatett: 1. 4:42 2. 6:48 3. 5:11 4. 7:50 5. 6:04 6. 9:55 7. 6:26

Personnel: Kainkwatett: Antoine Chessex (alto saxophone); Torsten Papenheim (guitar); Axel Haller (bass)