pfMentum CD 033

An inversion of conventions – at least when it comes to collaborations between so-called classical and so-called non-classical instruments, DELTA is the exact opposite of a jazz soloist and strings outings.

Rather than having, say, a saxophonist record with a brace of strings, this Third Stream effort was organized by Steuart Liebig, a contrabassguitarist from Culver City, Calif., to showcase his instrument and a recital-ready trio of horn players: Ellen Burr on flute, alto flute and piccolo, Andrew Pask on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon. This reason why this pleasant, if – at 67 minutes a touch overlong – session works, is that the versatile participants are as familiar with improvised as notated music.

In the past, Liebig has formulated a place for his instrument both in so-called serious composition and in improvisation with the likes of reedists Julius Hemphill and Vinny Golia and drummers Billy Mintz and Alex Cline. Chief vehicle for his Third Stream writing is this Stigtette. Flautist Burr not only premiered solo flute pieces composed by James Tenney and others, but has also been part of improvising ensembles led by drummers Harris Eisenstadt and Adam Rudolph. Bassoonist Schoenbeck improvises regularly with such Los Angles players as Golia, Eisenstadt and bassist Mark Dresser, while in her time in the so-called classical idiom is dedicated to performing the music of living composers. Pask has played jazz in his native Wellington, New Zealand, Cantopop as a Hong Kong studio musician, and, in Los Angeles, with different projects involving Golia, and in a duo with trumpeter Jeff Kaiser.

Interesting enough, cursory listening to the 12 tracks reveal a baroque tinge. That’s because for all intents and purposes Liebig’s electric bass plays the part of the ground bass, developed in 16th England and used extensively during the Baroque era. An early version of what would evolve into jazz’s walking bass, this ostinato recurs over and over while the voices on top of it vary continuously. Of course pure Baroque music isn’t this polyphonic and it’s even rarer to find the bassoon as a lead voice in that genre, as it often is here.

Additionally, during the four tracks that make up the “kprs” suite there’s a point where the interconnected tapestry of slurred horn colors almost resemble the texture of an ecclesiastical organ, until it fade to more distant and lower-pitched harmonies from the unison horns. During other sections, the distinctive bassoon lilt delicately twists and turns, as andante, thumb-popping bass lines define the bottom, while high-pitched, twittering piccolo timbres and slurred bass clarinet textures move along the middle range in double counterpoint. Finale is a polyphonic aural color field, again most notable for Schoenbeck’s striated modulations.

With most of the compositions involving note-perfect glissandi and harmonic convergence, “Render” stands out, since its concluding section decelerates from staccato to adagio. So does “Secret One-Hand Shake”, whose final measure is purposely missing. Yet the most distinctive tracks are “Knowledge is Gravity” and “Seven Dreams about Time”, a 14-minute-plus, multi-part composition movement played continuously.

The former features Liebig’s power thumps hugging the centre, as trilled portamento double-tonguing from the horns swells to repetitive riffing as if they were performing Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music. More complicated, the later piece slackens the pace around the ground bass continuo so that the contrapuntal possibilities of the horns are put into sharper relief. Using broken chords, every flute flutter and harmonized bass clarinet line establishes a separate personality, eventually splitting apart to accede to individualized variations on the theme.

Proof that classically-oriented Third Stream writing doesn’t have to be effete or pretentious, when taken in bite-sized earfuls, DELTA confirms the cooperative compositional and improvised talents of all involved.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Hector 2. kprs: 3. kprs mahoning 4. kprs alchemy 5. kprs light cloud 6. kprs dark cloud 7. kprs 1956-j no.2 8. Dynamite’s Dionysian Dance 6. Cold Green Mystery 7. Our Lady of the Illuminated Hand 8. Seven Dreams about Time 9. Render 10. Secret One-Hand Shake 11. Knowledge is Gravity

Personnel: Ellen Burr (flute and alto flute, piccolo); Andrew Pask (clarinet and bass clarinet); Sara Schoenbeck: (bassoon); Steuart Liebig: (contrabassguitars and preparations)