Gottschalk/Jacquemyn/Volker

Baggerboot
Henceforth Records

Partita Radicale
Frutas Azules
Free Elephant

By Ken Waxman
May 7, 2006

Delineating in bold relief the conflicting partition between Free Jazz and Free Music – Central European division – these CD, which share the talents of accordionist Ute Völker and violist/violinist Gunda Gottschalk, are apt sessions in which to compare the two genres.

Definitely on the Free Music side of the divide, the members of the German Partita Radicale group, flautists Karola Pasquay and Ortrud Kegel plus violist Thomas Beimel – as well as Gottschalk and Völker – keep the proceedings minimalist and nearly inconspicuous. As the quintet sets down the six pieces titled “Cancionero” I through VI, it reaches out to New music precepts and beyond that to traditional chamber-music protocol

Contrarily, Baggerboot is energized with palpable passion, with the three improvisers – Belgian bassist Peter Jacquemyn participates along with Gottschalk and Völker – liberated by Free Jazz passion. The trio improvises blatantly in a manner that mixes tension-release and virtuosity.

Founded in 1991, Partita Radicale is known in Germany for performing music written for theatre productions and silent films, its collaborations with modern composers and for playing what is described as improvisation cycles. There’s also a very strong so-called serious music orientation among the players.

Flautist Karola Pasquay, for examples, often interprets the music of composer

John Cage; Cologne-based bass flautist Ortrud Kegel is involved with “experimental salon music [sic]” plus theatre, dance and art collaborations; while Essen-native, violist Thomas Beimel, who now lives in Madrid, studied traditional music in China and frequently works in Bucharest with Romanian composers. Even Wuppertal-based Völker, who teaches accordion at the Bochum Music School, is very active with theatrical productions.

Acceptance of a composer’s dictum, while often imagining music as secondary accompaniment for theatre and film projects means that many of the textures on this CD are less perceptive than they should be. Muffled, ghostly node vibrations from the flutes mixed with understated arpeggios from the strings level too many textures and at points tranquilize and the proceedings.

In actual fact, it’s usually the glottal resonation and expanding polyphonic chords from Völker’s bellows and buttons that are most audible. Compressing her tremolo pulsations, the accordionist adds a needed toughness to the tunes’ bottoms. Pushed enough, these same squeeze-box insertions eventually blend with staccato flute tones and measured contrabass flute breaths plus spiccato squeaks from the viola and violinist. To get an idea of what she does, when isolated Pasquay’s flute tone is glossy and full-bodied, with a textbook legit tone, while Gottschalk solo violin japes are appropriately jagged and disjointed.

By the penultimate track rounded flute pitches finally aim somewhat towards dissonance, the strings add constant portamento tones, while the squeeze box lists polyrhythmically, like a landlubber seeking his sea legs. The layered concluding section finds all five musicians improvising in counterpoint to one another, with the flutes at long last hocketing aviary-like slides. The entire ensemble transforms its output to fortissimo before dissolving into silence.

Baggerboot appears to begin where Frutas Azules concludes, with Gottschalk at last asserting herself, although Völker appears a bit more reserved. This isn’t unexpected either. Wuppertal-native Gottschalk was part of the late German bassist Peter Kowald’s Ort-Ensemble and since then has improvised with a wide range of stylists including British saxophonist Evan Parker, American bassist William Parker and Chinese guzheng player Xu Feng Xi.

Not that the powerful contributions of Jacquemyn can be downplayed. The bassist, who lives in Brakel, Belgium, is not only a sculptor who assaults tree trunks with axe and chainsaw, but for the past 20 years has joined musical forces with improvisers ranging from Belgium-based saxophonist André Goudbeek and Kowald to American saxophonist Jeffrey Morgan and French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh.

Unlike the nearly effete, formalist improvisation of Frutas Azules, the three tracks entitled “Cascades” I through III on this CD are no-holds-barred improv, consequently running the risk of failure as well as success. The former taints “Cascade I”, which is overlong at 25½ minutes, and almost submerges it beneath energized solipsism.

Sharp spiccato squeals from the high strings, multiphonic tremolo from the accordion and dissonant ratcheting buzzing from the double bass too often shove the textures into subterranean percussiveness and reverb. While a singular fiddle tone is almost flute-like and some ratcheting stops from Jacquemyn sound as if he’s taking a metal comb to his strings, the concentrated polyphony is nearly wearying.

Almost as extended, “Cascades III” is a focused, final variant which defines the three’s improvisational skills. It follows the 12-minute interlude of “Cascades II”, which highlights bulging bellows from Völker, whistling sul ponticello stress and unison vocalizing from Gottschalk, plus Jacquemyn’s col legno string rapping.

On the concluding variation, though, as the fiddle’s glissandi turn to extended falsetto arpeggios, the bassist introduces spiccato dissonance while the accordionist’s reeds take on definite baritone saxophone resonance. With Völker maintaining a throbbing ostinato made up of minimalist, organ-like textures, Gottschalk’s vibrant strokes reference a hoedown and Jacquemyn’s gravelly tones rotate to a series of descending arco stops. Down-pedaling from fortissimo and prestissimo pitches, the trio – especially the violinist – splinter sounds into their upper partials, contracting timbres into shrill whistles, then dead silence.

Defining the triumphs and consequences of energized improv, Baggerboot impresses with the trio’s willingness to experiment. More consistent throughout, the more formal Frutas Azules doesn’t attain the same level of accomplishment.