#40 Vienna & #41 Bernbeuren 2003
X-OR FR 013

Chicago Overtones
Hatology 613

Trombone, saxophone, bass and drums isn’t a standard combo configuration and when it’s put together as on these sessions, it’s because the musicians involved are looking for a particular sound. Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer helped create one rough archetype with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan or tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims in the 1950s, while trombonist Roswell Rudd in partnership with either soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, alto saxophonist John Tchicai or tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp solidified the prototype from the 1960s on.

Essentially, the contrapuntal design for this partnership contrasts the limited gravelly slurs available from the trombone with the pliant tones, pitches and textures supplied by the woodwind’s many keys. The German-Dutch FourinOne band and Italian Daniele D’Agaro’s American quartet take from this tradition and reinterpret it to fit their own idiosyncrasies. Both revel in contrast between shrill and sonorous.

Playing his own compositions plus selected lines from Duke Ellington, Curtis Cark and Leadbelly, the Udine-based D’Agaro extends the conception with Free Jazz touches on tenor saxophone and clarinet. He’s helped immeasurably by the versatility of trombonist Job Bishop, formerly of the Vandermark5; bassist Kent Kessler, a longtime Vandermark collaborator, and seemingly ageless drummer Robert Barry, who played with Sun Ra early on.

Moving beyond the song form of Lacy, Shepp and even Ra, FourinOne’s numerically titled free improvisations converge on extended techniques propelled by Den Haag-based tenor saxophonist Luc Houtkamp, who also composes computer-based music; Berlin-based trombonist Johannes Bauer, who combines primitive effects with futuristic touches; and the steady rhythm of two other Germans: bassist Dieter Manderscheid and drummer Martin Blume.

A slice of localized Freebop that begins the D’Agaro CD, “Chicago Beer Coaster” picks up the Rudd-Shepp vibe after about one minute of buzzing sax and ‘bone tones, and develops into a first class lope as soon as the bassist and drummer enter. Ricocheting between pseudo-gutbucket and mid-range JJ Johnson-inflected grace notes, Bishop’s voicing shares space with altissimo split tones from the tenor saxist,

D’Agaro, whose playing partners included bassist Ernst Glerum and drummer Han Bennink during his years in Amsterdam, knows how to wield his axe, an expression particularly apt when playing Leadbelly’s “Dick’s Holler” or Chicago blues. But he’s equally facile on clarinet, the unison voicing of which with Bishop, favorably suggests the Lacy-Rudd soprano-trombone mix.

A sympathetic recasting of saxophonist Clifford Jordan’s version of the tune, “Dick’s Holler” features Bishop playing a gruff pedal-point obbligato to the saxophonist’s false registers altissimo, as Barry contributes rim-shot action and Kessler steady patterning. Meanwhile, American-in-Amsterdam pianist Curtis Clark’s “Barry K” begins with an understated drum solo then evolves into a hard boppy line, with the galloping horns trading call-and-response riffs and a couple of jokey false endings. Episodes in Ellingtonia bring out romantic, Ben Webster-like echoes from the saxman, although his experimental clarinet playing is decades removed from what Jimmy Hamilton or Barney Bigard did with the Duke.

On his own “Ultramarine #13” for instance, D’Agaro uses squeaky quivers and slurred split tones to wind around Bishop’s sharp, blustery exhortations, then to harmonize with the brassman on top of Barry’s cymbal plinks, the result of striking the instrument with the whisks’ handles. At points resembling New music, D’Agaro wraps things up with a quivering contralto texture. Alternately, “Dog Nose in the Kitchen”, an unpredictable group composition, features the Italian’s peeping, then melodious, clarinet line merging with plunger tones from Bishop. As the tune accelerates, mid-range slurs and flutter-tonguing squeals from the reedist, redefine themselves as shrill whistles to contrast with as the trombonist’s blustery wah-wah action.

Heir to the Teutonic Free Jazz tradition of stylists such as his older brother Conrad, as well as the sort of primitive-modernism practiced by Rudd, FourinOne’s Bauer carves out a place for himself in the company of Manderscheid, who has worked extensively with saxophonist Frank Gratkowski and Blume, whose regular playing partners have ranged from violinist Phil Wachsmann to vocalist Phil Minton. Wild card is Houtkamp, whose intuitive soloing encompasses a variety of guises.

Most instructively, all four are loosest on the more-than-27-minute “40a”, recorded in a Viennese jazz club, which is borne in on a wave of cacophony that’s equal parts roaring ‘bone pressure, discordant tongue slaps and pitch vibrations from the reedist, rattling rim shots from the drummer and resonating bass thumps

Understated horn actions eventually intermingle the way squabbling children do at a playground – with an extended dialogue of cries and howls. Bubbly tremolo smears from Bauer presage internal buzzes and body tube expansion from Houtkamp. Unperturbed, and solid – like Kessler on CHICAGO OVERTONES – Manderscheid walks up and down his strings, while Blume contributes door-knocking rhythms.

Changing his accompaniment to rolls and flams, the drummer encourages granular slurs from Bauer, which evolve into gutbucket wah wahs, expanded with node vibrations. Halting a downward note spiral, the two horns soon match one another, honk for honk, trill for trill and tongue stop for tongue stop. At the track’s mid-point both hornmen bury themselves in their respective valves or keys, pushing out angry retorts as if they’re voicing a surreal Punch and Judy show. Starkly slicing notes to the bone, it’s up to the rhythm section to keep the tune moving which they do with pitch suggestions from glass armonicas, marimbas and other ratcheted instruments.

Sluicing, spitty triplets from Bauer, squeals and glottal punctuation from Houtkamp arise as the bassist strums and the drummer pulses. Climaxing as a mini-recital of shifting tonal centres, the piece’s final variation evolves from balanced moderato to harsh spiccato on Manderscheid’s part that coalescing bubbling Bronx cheers from Bauer and thin air expiration from the reedist.

Longer and shorter variations on these avant-themes, the other improvisations show off more buzzing and rumbling mixed with the odd grace note and vibrato-laden phrases. Polyphonic and contrapuntal, cross blowing from the saxist and irregular blasts from the trombonist are enhanced by the inventiveness of the other two which includes the bassist strumming chromatic guitar-like lines and the drummer’s pitches and beats arising from what in other circumstances could be a djembe, a balophone or a whirl drum.

Whether expanding the sounds of trombone-sax ensembles like the New York Art Quartet or creating unique textures with extended techniques, both bands confirm the viability of this original configuration.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: #40: 1. #41a 2. #41b 3. #41c 4. #40a 5. #40b

Personnel: #40: Johannes Bauer (trombone); Luc Houtkamp (tenor saxophone); Dieter Manderscheid (bass); Martin Blume (percussion)

Track Listing: Chicago: 1. Chicago Beer Coaster 2. Ultramarine #13 3. Sweet Zurzday 4. L’Argaro Freschio 5. Long Armed Woman 6. Dog Nose in the Kitchen 7. Dick’s Holler 8. Barry K 9. Melancholia

Personnel: Chicago: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Daniele D’Agaro (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Kent Kessler (bass); Robert Barry (drums)