COXHILL/GJERSTAD/STEPHENS

This That and The Other
Loose Torque LT 003

By Ken Waxman

An aviary symphony, this CD matches two veteran European reed players on six longish explorations of the timbral qualities of high-pitched horns. Anchored only by the steadfast stopping of acoustic bassist Nick Stephens, England’s Lol Coxhill on soprano saxophone, and Norway’s Frode Gjerstad on Eb and Bb clarinets and alto saxophone, explore every nuance of staccato shrillness.

Although the reedists, in their first recorded face-off, are front-and-centre, it’s Stephens who earns MVP status. The bassist, who also recorded, mixed and edited the session before releasing it on his own label, utilizes nearly every bull fiddle technique available to both accompany the players singly, and serve as the glue holding together their improvisations.

Along the way he exhibits his own command of the big daddy of the string family. Leaping from vibrated shuffle bowing to thick pizzicato episodes of splayed rhythms and then back to tremolo col legno action – often on the same track – he provides the ballast that keeps the other two’s timbres from fixating on strident altissimo.

Most of the time Coxhill’s and Gjerstad’s reeds produce enough echoing tones to populate an ornithological pet shop. Penny whistles-like shrieks, tremolo spetrofluctuation and staccato wails are the common discourse of both, although there are points when the Norwegian adopts a more moderate tone. He almost touches on mellow when his lower-pitched Eb clarinet is in use.

At points layered dissonance seems to be the contrapuntal currency, yet there are other spots at which the Englishman’s tongue-stopping brays manage to suggest an obtuse complement to Gjerstad’s vibrations. Less frequently, it almost appears that the polytones complement and harmonize with each other – then it’s back to singular split-tones from the soprano, ascending past dog-whistle territory, and split-tone braying and tongue slaps from the alto saxophonist. All the while Stephens’ growling sul tasto patterning plus occasional waist and belly knocking holds down the bottom.

Admirable rather than gripping, THIS THAT AND THE OTHER exposes far too many fortissimo and agitato tones to really tell a story. Yet it does confirm the technical skills of all three players.

Track Listing: 1. This 2. That 3. This and That 4. This and The Other 5. That and The Other 6. This That and The Other

Personnel: Lol Coxhill (soprano saxophone); Frode Gjerstad (Eb and Bb clarinets and alto saxophone); Nick Stephens (bass)