Calling Signals

Dreams in Dreams

Calling Signals
Calling Signals
Loose Torque LT 004

Band names are a convenience, usually created when players don’t want to call a group so-and-so’s quartet. Yet the designation can also be deceptive if the make-up of a group changes substantially without altering the name.

So it is with these CDs by two ensembles called Calling Signals. The quartet was initially put together following an all-day memorial concert for British drummer John Stevens by British bassist Nick Stephens and Norwegian reedist Frode Gjerstad, who had both played extensively with Stevens. The self-titled CD is a 1996 edition of the group with its founders joined by South African drummer Louis Moholo of Blue Notes fame and Dane Hasse Poulsen on guitars and effects, best-known for his association with French reedist Louis Sclavis.

Dreams in Dreams on the other hand, recorded almost 19 year later, adds two Norwegian musicians with different histories to the Stephens-Gjerstad duo. Accordionist Eivin One Pedersen, usually a pianist, was the original third member of Detail with Gjerstad and Stevens in 1981. Today he mostly composes for theatre and films and plays more mainstream jazz gigs. Paal Nilssen-Love, who began recording with Gjerstad in 1992, before he was 18 years old, has since gone on to be one of improv’s most in-demand percussionists, working with everyone from American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee to the Scandinavian band Atomic.

Both CDs are notable, with the shorter Dreams in Dreams more so, perhaps due to the sonic familiarity expressed by the Stephens-Gjerstad-Nilssen Love coupling and the unusual textures from Pedersen’s squeeze box.

One of the most notable aspects of the first CD is how restrained – almost John Stevens-like – Moholo is in his accompaniment. The pitter-pattering cross shots and barely-there ruffs and flams relate only vaguely to the backbeat the drummer often used to power large ensembles like Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath.

Particular as well, if sometimes a bit inchoate, is Poulsen’s work. Fascinating when he uses rasgueado strums and flat picking to reach those areas beneath the bridge or, as on “Unanticipated Turns” outputs jangling timbres that sound as if he has loosened his strings, other strokes don’t offer the same allure. Distant reverb or scene-setting frails often fail to coalesce with the others’ sounds. In contrast, there’s a passage on “The Breeze and Us” where the polyrhythmic concordance suggests Moholo is playing a darbuka and Poulsen a kalimba.

Wedded more solidly towards Saturn than the savannah, Gjerstad’s skittering lines soar, slur and sideslip far from ethnic replication. “Dots and Dashes” may be the title which most accurately reflects his program. Using tongue stops and pitch vibrato, he coils and trills his way diagonally across flat-lined, single-string guitar licks and hand patting drumming. Meanwhile Stephens holds the beat with repeated plucks.

Sul tasto and sul ponticello coloring shares space with steady walking throughout, as the bassist alternates his role as a soloist of delicate dexterity with rhythm section mate for Moholo’s spare bounces and ride cymbal hacks. With the guitarist, there’s a dramatic passage on the almost 20-minute “Crossing the Bar” where Stephens’ spiccato pulse and double stops merge with Poulsen’s electonica-tinged reverb, as the saxophonist’s collection of lip trills and side-slipping obbligatos move to a climax.

Fewer emphasized climaxes and more moderato interchange is evident on Dreams in Dreams. Perhaps it’s the shifting sfmuto of color available from Pedersen’s accordion rather than a guitar, or the fact that the reedist concentrates on clarinets.

Interestingly enough, Nilssen-Love, who often works in bombastic punk-jazz contexts, here habitually moderates his expression to drum top pitter-patter and cross-handed cymbal expansion. There are points, in fact, where the layering becomes downright impressionistic.

Perhaps in response to the polyphonic curves vibrating from the accordion, the bassist’s contribution also becomes more horizontally ornamental– at least in contrast to his work on the earlier CD. That doesn’t mean however that regular walking bass lines and double stopping drones aren’t available from his four-strings. On “Dreams in Dreams”, for example, each note is patiently sounded until the result is a reverberating line that can stand up on its own – as the accordion tones shiver and cymbals quiver behind him.

On clarinet, Gjerstad doesn’t mute his timbre exploration either, sometimes playing faster and higher-pitched than the andante proceedings. Disconnected tongue-stopping slurs with jagged pitch oscillations are still on show, though frequently this meets a wash of solid, low frequency arpeggios from Pedersen that color the proceedings.

Recently the Norwegian keyboardist has started playing dates with his local group and you can hear him becoming more comfortable with rubato improv as the session proceeds. The penultimate track captures contrapuntal quivering timbres from Pedersen’s squeeze box engaging in call-and-response vamps with Stephens’ thumping bass lines. “Dreams in Dreams in Dreams”, the final – and longest track – appears to feature no clarinet, but Pedersen’s squeeze box as the lead voice, with bass and drum accompaniment. Using sliding octaves, studied repetition and high-intensity multi- voicing, he organically builds up to flourishes and cadences that suggest both jazz and European dance music.

Satisfying in exposing a Scandinavian stylist who should be more widely heard and with top-notch work from the other quartet members Dreams in Dreams is a keeper. Slightly less memorable is Calling Signals, although the CD adds a historical perspective to the featured musicians’ work.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Calling: 1. Fjord Deep, Mountain High 2. Threeways Meet 3. Crossing the Bar 4. Dots and Dashes 5. The Last Three Notes 6. Drum’n’Bass 7. Unanticipated Turns 8. The Breeze and Us

Personnel: Calling: Frode Gjerstad (alto saxophone); Hasse Poulsen (guitars and effects); Nick Stephens (bass); Louis Moholo (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Dreams: 1. Dreams 2. Dreams in 3. Dreams in Dreams 4. Dreams in Dreams in 5. Dreams in Dreams in Dreams

Personnel: Dreams: Frode Gjerstad (Eb and Bb clarinets); Eivin One Pedersen (accordion); Nick Stephens (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion)