Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver

Triptych
Leo

ICTUS
Live
ILK

By Ken Waxman
January 1, 2006

Known – if at all – in North America for her contributions to Tim Berne’s recording of the open, coma saxophone suite, and her trio appearances with pianist Marilyn Crispell, Danish reedist Lotte Anker has a much higher profile elsewhere.

Moving among free improv, contemporary classical music and a combination of the two, the tenor and soprano saxophonist has composed theatre music and worked in Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur’s ensembles and American Maria Schneider’s big band.

However there are few so-called classical inflections or the sort of mainstream jazz rhythms that Schneider prefers on these CDs. Anker, joined by two completely different casts of characters, works firmly in the Free Music mold.

An outgrowth of her trio with Crispell, Triptych could be termed the saxophonist’s “American” CD. It connects Anker with two New Yorkers, drummer Gerald Cleaver, a carryover from the Crispell trio, and pianist Craig Taborn. Both men worked together in bands led by reedist Roscoe Mitchell and violist Matt Maneri, while Taborn has played with Berne and reedist James Carter among others, and Cleaver with pianist Matthew Shipp and saxophonist Charles Gayle to name two.

Conversely, Live unites three generations of Danish avant-gardists – collectively called ICTUS – with French guitarist Marc Ducret, who coincidentally has toured and recorded with Berne. With Anker representing the middle generation, ICTUS consists of the slightly older Peter Friis Nielsen, who plays electric bass and preparations here, and young drummer Stefan Pasborg. Pasborg, who leads a band with Lithuanian saxophonist Liudas Mockunas, has played with innovators such as saxophonist John Tchicai and American trombonist Ray Anderson. Friis Nielsen has been in many bands with drummer Peter Ole Jørgensen and German reedman Peter Brötzmann.

Not that you would confuse Anker’s improvising with anything created by other saxophonists. During the course of Live’s five instant compositions, she clicks, twitters, smears and rasps, concentrating on wiggling split tones and glottal punctuation, the better to interact with Ducret. His radical string abrasions meander from guitar-hero-like pulsating fuzz tones to intricate, angled microtonal musings. Alongside then both, Friis Nielsen pointedly maintains the bass line’s rhythmic functions while Pasborg shakes and rattles polyrhythmic percussion implements for auxiliary textures.

Tunes like “Ping Pånk/Orbituary” involve shredded drum beats and tapped bass-guitar rumbles that set up slinky smears and flutter tonguing from Anker plus shuffling, scraped guitar lines from Ducret. As the layered improvisation opens up in volume, the bassist’s quivering sequences serve as the anchor between flanged and distorted UFO-like sounds from the guitarist and repetitive reed vibrations from the soprano saxophonist.

Other tunes feature the guitarist turning to slurred fingering for angled microtonal effects, piling fuzz-tone pulses on top of one another as Anker responds with polyphonic trills, and spacey blocked multiphonics from both front-liners. Meanwhile Pasborg showcases compressed cymbal battering, rolls and rumbles.

Centrepiece of all this is the nearly-16-minute “The Sky Below/Restoration” which supplies equal time for all concerned. Beginning with modulated, echoing bass guitar runs that eventually assumes an assembly line-like continuo underneath the others, the tune opens up for reverberating licks from Ducret with surprising country & western inferences, as the drummer pops his gong and cymbals and Anker contributing funky vibrations. Pioneering a technique that sounds as if he’s scraping steel wool across his strings, the guitarist downshifts to pinpointed chording as Pasborg displays scatter-shot shakes and inflatable balloon-like abrasions. With Friis Nielsen still shaping the tune’s undercurrent, Anker’s flutter-tonguing dissolves into reed peeps until whammy bar movement and knob-turning action from the guitarist rouse her. Countering his rubato slaps with curvature snorts and arpeggio runs from the lower part of her instrument’s body tube, she forces him to reconfigure his down strokes into seemingly random scrapes.

Less theatrically confrontational, Triptych, like its namesake, is more balanced. Almost from the first, it seems that the pianist and drummer are intent on expressing with rhythms and chords what the saxophonist does with vibrations and blowing. Take “Cumulus” for example.

Here Taborn lightly voices his keys and Cleaver barely taps and rattles his percussion, both leaving space for a series of trembling peeps from Anker. Soon however, the soprano saxophonist reverts to trilling, swelled notes, creating her own horn fantasia among the pianist’s deliberately metronomic chord pattern and the drummer’s polyrhythmic fills. Three-quarters of the way through, Anker’s pinched split tones divide into vibrated nodes as Taborn’s double counterpoint becomes stronger and more focused. By degrees, the sounds fade away to echoing resonation from the drummer’s kit.

Cleaver’s self-effacing rhythmic calm allows other pieces such as “The Hierophant” to progressively fade, like an old photograph left too long under a bright light. The polar opposite of the bombastic drummer, his contributions here occasionally involve almost literally wiping – not beating – his snares, cymbals and floor toms as Taborn resonates wide, high frequency, harmonics in the bass clef and Anker pitchslides an irregular vibrato sideways into overblown harshness. When the pianist’s walking fills and the drummer’s beats eventually stop the piece climaxes with saxist’s sturdy echoing overtones.

In this collective mind meld, Taborn intermittently strums guitar-like arpeggios, and Anker’s low-key soprano obbligato sporadically takes on (Paul) Desmond-like sweetness, But the notable factor linking these seven improvisations is how nonchalantly the staccato coexists with the legato, speed with languidness and silence with clamor.

Comparing the lines output by the trio members to ever-spiraling concentric circles, you can hear organic interaction on the more-than-13½-minute title track. Here Taborn taps not just notes but their voicing and vibrations from his keys; Cleaver scratches his ride cymbal with a drum stick more often than he hits it; and Anker’s waveforms rebound from false register altissimo slurring to rotating grace notes, without upsetting the pool of group improvisations.

Taken together, Triptych and Live should provide a triple function. They should make Anker’s talents more obvious to North Americans; introduce uninformed jazz fans to other Danish – and one French – improvisers; and solidify the reputation of a couple of self-possessed, maturing American sound makers.