QUARTET NOIR

Lugano
Victo cd 096

SCHLIPPENBACH/DUNMALL/ROGERS/BIANCO Vesuvius
SLAMCD 262

Serendipitously recorded eight days apart, these mixed Euro-American quartet CDs with similar instrumentation couldn’t be more different – and that statement encompasses a lot more than personnel or geography.

Matching one of the founders of German Free Jazz with three younger, London-based improvisers is VESUVIUS, an all-out recording session firmly in the Energy Music genre. LUGANO, which is described as “a suite in three movements”, is as much minimalism as Free Improv, with the three Europeans and one American consolidating a series of understated timbres and waveforms into a collection of tones. Amazingly – or perhaps not – both CDs reach the goal of positive music making, though admittedly LUGANO’s are more micro.

Quartet Noir’s partnership goes back at least to 1998, though French bassist Joëlle Léandre, Swiss drummer Fritz Hauser and his countryman, tenor and soprano saxophonist Urs Leimgruber earlier played together in a trio formation. Léandre has also partnered American pianist Marilyn Crispell in other circumstances. LUGANO germinates slowly as if it was a blossom slowly unfolding.

Speed up the camera work, like a Walt Disney nature film showing flowers blooming in seconds, and simultaneously crank up the volume, and you replicate the other CD. A first-time recording in this configuration, it hooks up British tenor saxophonist Paul Dunmall and bassist Paul Rogers – two-quarters of the Mujician band – with German pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach, whose usual reed partner is Evan Parker. Extra man is New York-born, London-based drummer Tony Bianco. Considering Bianco is probably the only percussionist to have backed blues-rocker Edgar Winter, rock’n’roller Chuck Berry and pianist Keith Tippett – Mujician’s leader – he’s obvious up for anything.

And up he has to be in this fast company. The four hit the ground running – like Israeli commandos during the Entebbe raid – and don’t let up during the two, more-than- 29 minutes and almost-35 minute, selections that make up VESUVIUS.

From the beginning Von Schlippenbach kinetically chords cadenzas on the piano keys plus stretching and scraping the internal mechanism, as Dunmall honks, smears, slurs and spits glottal timbres. As the saxman continuously outputs altissimo trills and honks plus tart split tones, Rogers involves himself with patterned strums and their echoes, as well as harmonic finger-picking, done a cappella. Midway through the first piece the pianist’s cascading pedal-propelled fills are backed by cymbal slaps and layered flams and ruffs from the drummer

On both tracks Dunmall stretches and varies the tempos as the backing from Rogers – with whom he sometimes plays in duo – moves from strumming and bridge rattling to rubber-band like plucks. Once Von Schlippenbach sets up a combination of external organic melody and scraping and stopping of the internal string nodes, the staccato movement brings forth irregular arco pulsing from the bassist and a splayed vibrato from the saxman. Although the pianist is interconnecting chords and notes like a metronome, he’s knowledgeable enough about keyboard dynamics that each note is outlined and voiced properly no matter how quickly he plays. By the final variation of the second tune, as Rogers’ bass notes rise from cross-sticking fury caused by the pressure on Bianco’s kit, they form a level ostinato on which Dunmall’s flutter-tongued and pitch-vibrated improvisations meet up with the adagio ricochets from the piano’s stopped internal strings and outward tremolo notes.

Evolving with as many silences and pregnant pauses as notes, LUGANO’s first section may be almost 32 minutes long, but it’s likely that the band on VESUVIUS sounds as many notes in five minutes of either of its improvisations as Quartet Noir does on this, the CD’s lengthiest track. Throughout the Noir four seem to rely on timbres that are sensed as much as heard.

The overriding sonic at the beginning is a splintered whistle from Leimgruber’s reed that connects organically with sul ponticello and skittering bass movements and agitato drum rumbles, rim shots and bounces. With the sideband signals vibrating as much as the expressed textures, the track nearly concludes before a recognizable reed arpeggio is heard. Although Crispell strums the odd chord, her contribution is so low frequency as to seem unvoiced.

Throughout, the four sometimes reconfigure themselves into two duos – drums and piano plus sax and bass – until Part III. Finally the scrapes and stops on cymbal tops and cascading piano glissandi that have infrequently appeared before, transform from disconnected tones into melody. Nut-cracker-like pops from the drummer and Madwoman-like, speaking-in-tongues from Léandre suddenly solidify. As the bassist harmonizes in a cracked bel-canto voice along with louder, serpentine split tones from Leimgruber, Hauser spatters beats from his cymbals and Crispell contributes chordal excursions externally and from inside strings that sound as if they’re propelling cymbals placed on top of them. Then everything fades away.

Within a little more than one week in October 2004 two methods of modern quartet improv were exposed on these discs. Each is equally valid.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Vesuvius: 1. Salamander 2. Leviathan

Personnel: Vesuvius: Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone); Alexander Von Schlippenbach (piano); Paul Rogers (7-string A.L.L. bass); Tony Bianco (drums)

Track Listing: Lugano: 1. Lugano (suite en 3 movements)

Personnel: Lugano: Urs Leimgruber (tenor and soprano saxophones); Marilyn Crispell, (piano); Joëlle Léandre (bass); Fritz Hauser (drums)