Balance Point Acoustics bpa 010

By Ken Waxman

Despite appearances and personnel this isn’t an Old World-New World double bass face-off between a practiced French master and an American tyro, seconded by a representative of each continent.

Rather CRUXES is a document of Bochum, Germany-based percussionist Martin Blume’s visit to the Bay Area, where he improvised live and in-studio with one veteran of the European scene – French bassist Joëlle Léandre – plus bassist Damon Smith and Aurora Josephson’s voice.

Smith, whose work here is complementary rather than antagonistic to Léandre’s, has already improvised with some of the top EuroImprovisers, including German reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and British bass saxophonist Tony Bevan. Josephson has recorded in the company of Smith, Blume and British violinist Philipp Wachsmann. Blume’s collaborators have ranged from saxophonist Luc Houtkamp of the Netherlands to Belgium pianist Fred Van Hove; while Léandre cohorts stretch from the late American saxophonist Steve Lacy and Portuguese fiddler Carlos Zingaro to partners appropriate for this meeting – improvising vocalists Lauren Newton and Maggie Nichols.

Josephson doesn’t yet have the commanding vocal personality of those other two, and to be honest there is a certain sameness to her harmonic asides expressed on the disc’s 12 selections. Wordless, but not rhythmic scat, her warbling, near-lyric soprano tone insinuates itself into the crevices of these pieces. But while that takes place, her gullet responses ululate from bel canto smoothness to episodes of puppy dog-like panting, crone cackling and frightened child whimpers.

Not adverse to occasionally vocalizing herself, Léandre’s one extended foray into spitting and whispering Bedlam-like vocal interaction on “Siberia of the Mind” fits organically into this bass duet with Smith, as one bows sonorously and the other attacks the strings spiccato.

With Josephson’s peeping and squeaking soprano in-and-out of aural focus, the improvisational mode on most selections follows the pattern of the two bassists inventively improvising upfront, and the drummer commenting on, extending and accompanying the dual string actions. Bringing a wealth of rhythmic imagination to the session, Blume swathes his drum tops with subtle taps and fingertip brush strokes, dabbing not striking them.

He uses gentling cymbal resonation, rotating scratches and slapped tops to not upset the equilibrium when the vocalist introduces a mini-excursion into chimp cries and grunts. Conversely, on “Tableaux Imaginaires/Cadres Imaginaires”, a trio outing with Smith and Léandre, hardened smacks, rattled cymbals, blunt paradiddles and resonating stick rebounds is his snapping rejoinder to slashing tremolo stops and speedy bow pressure. As the bass duo works moderato, in broken chords that plug any spaces, the overall interaction produces wave forms that resemble vibrated flute lines.

Flinging timbres at one another that bring in most string nodes and pressure from the space near the tuning pegs down to just above the spike, Smith and Léandre knit a polyphonic tone blanket that takes in layering spiccato cross references, sul ponticello and sul tasto movements and straightforward double stopping.

The most spectacular version of the layered interaction occurs on the final more-than-19½-minute “Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!” but the patterns are set throughout. Pops, whorls and spirals from Blume’s percussion, constant and repetitive shuffle bowing and double stopping from the basses as well as echoing squeaks from Josephson complete the sound picture.

No contest, the crux of CRUXES is a meeting of minds, and a confirmation that improv thrives in Europe, in the United States and among veterans and near-veterans.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ces Grésillantes Annés Cosmococciques (studio): 1. Risen like Venus from the Flatlands of Brooklyn 2. Imaginary Paintings/Imaginary Frames 3. Siberia of the Mind 4. The Elusive Basilisk 5. Scriabin the Derailer 6. Tanglefoot Flypaper 7. Napolean’s Favorite Wine (Gevrey-Chambertin) 8. Praxis Sizzling /Cosmococcic Years (live) 9. De Papier Tue-mouches 10. Un Soeur de Charité 11. Tableaux Imaginaires/Cadres Imaginaires 12. Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi!

Personnel: Joëlle Léandre and Damon Smith (basses); Martin Blume (percussion); Aurora Josephson (voice)