New World Records NW 80639-2

Truthfully a New music session, the eight notated compositions by Argentinean-American composer/reedist Guillermo Gregorio owe their overall careful implementation and shape to more than the Chicago-based saxophonist and clarinetist’s theoretical basis for writing. Nearly all of the members of Gregorio’s Madi ensemble and featured guests have experience with improvised music, including the leader himself. Additionally he has such respect for the spontaneous impulse that space was left in the final track for an improvisation by bass clarinetist Ken Vandermark.

Some of the scores also allow the players to make decision about the direction in which to connect with thorough-composed parts. The spatial arrangement of the material, including notated silences, relates to a theory developed among Argentinean visual artists during Gregorio’s youth stating that all shapes, even when separated by empty spaces, belong to the same plane. To those unfamiliar with such arguments however, it’s obvious that COPLANAR has definite antecedents in both 20th Century so-called serious music and jazz-improv.

Briefly, ensemble member Jim Baker, who plays piano and synthesizer, often works with AACM tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson; oboist and accordionist Kyle Bruckmann, who recently relocated to the Bay area, is featured in the all improv EKG duo; guitarist John Corbett is a writer/producer responsible for Atavistic Records’ Unheard Music series; and cellist Fred Lonberg-Hom seems to be on every second CD in Chicago and has just joined the Vandermark5. Other players have a more so-called classical background. Guest clarinetist Aram Shelton is in at least two bands made up of younger improvisers; and Swiss tubaist Marc Unternährer is a member of the aptly named Chicago-Luzern Exchange; and even Irish composer Jennifer Walshe, who sounds like a cut-rate Maggie Nichols on the one track in which she is featured, also performs as an improvising vocalist. Vandermark, of course plays with numerous improvisers throughout North America and Europe.

Actually except that his multiphonic interpretation is a little more upfront, the nearly 14 minutes of “Coplanar 5” that features Vandermark don’t sound that much different from the other tracks. Completely improvised or not, his primitivist split tones and smeared growls mesh almost faultlessly with the circling tremolo strings and layered horn pulsations. Before a coda of disconnected piano chords wraps up everything, the reedist’s squeaking has melted into near-silent tongue slaps.

Other pieces, such as the nearly 16½-minute “Coplanar 1 + 2” and “White Coplanar” confirm this. The later track, designed for Warren Po’s cracklebox, or early miniature simple synthesizer, as well as Jen Clare Paulson’s viola and Gregorio’s clarinet, builds tension by playing up the disparity between the jittering toy-like qualities of Po’s instrument and the smooth glissandi of the others’. Cracklebox sizzling and fluttering almost rough up the clarinet’s near legit tone.

As for “Coplanar 1 + 2”, the layered rubato scrapes and slides from those experienced in improv in other contexts such as Corbett, Baker and Lonberg-Holm, bring a certain fissure to massed andante chords from the rest of the ensemble. As Baker’s synthesizer triggers flanged snorts, burps and gurgles, the cross modulations from the others toughens as well. Scraped guitar lines interact with the thump of arco bass as ratcheting percussive timbres appear. Created in broken octaves, the irregular vibrations of Bruckmann’s oboe contrast with Gregorio’s pinched clarinet tone.

Adding Unternährer’s tuba and Bruckmann playing accordion as well as oboe, “Construction with Coplanar” brings the composer’s ideas into boldest relief. Polyphonically biting off jagged timbres, the duo’s parts stand out from the more legato string and horn accompaniment. After tuba honks and spiccato runs from the cellist, the composer’s resolutely straight clarinet playing almost stands by itself.

Perhaps the lesson here, which Gregorio may agree with, is that with COPLANAR, he has reached full maturity as a composer. Yet negotiation of his compositions’ intricacies entails the involvement of musicians more versatile than he. Perhaps, one could say, it demands those who are more familiar with the improv experience.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: One: 1. Coplanar 1 + 2 2. Coplanar 4 (for oboe, clarinet, tuba and cello)* 3. Coplanar 3 (for piano and strings) 3# 4. White Coplanar (for clarinet, viola and cracklebox)% 5. Construction with Coplanar (for oboe/accordion, clarinet/alto saxophone, tuba, and cello)* 6. Madi Piece (for guitar and strings) 7. Swiss Coplanar (for voice, tuba, and piano)*^ 8. Coplanar 5 (for bass clarinet, clarinets, strings and piano)+

Personnel: Marc Unternährer (tuba)*; Guillermo Gregorio (clarinet and alto saxophone); Kyle Bruckmann (oboe or accordion); Aram Shelton (E-flat clarinet)+; Ken Vandermark (bass clarinet)+; Jim Baker (piano or ARP synthesizer); Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)#; Jen Clare Paulson (viola); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); John Corbett (guitar); Michael Cameron (bass); Warren Po (cracklebox)%; Jennifer Walshe (voice)^