Horn_Bill: Reed Solos
Matchless MRCD63

By Ken Waxman

An extended sonic essay in 21st Century reed techniques, HORN_BILL is an unaltered depiction of unaccompanied solos by five British sax players and a Berlin-based clarinetist. Absorbing in its audacity, this two-CD set captures the players not only eschewing melody, rhythm and harmony for silences and trifling breath dynamics, but in essence negating – with one significant exception – expected reed sounds.

The exception is tenor saxophonist Lou Gare’s “Saxophony”. A Free Music pioneer as a member of AMM up to the 1970s, Gare’s jazz-related variations have a title that perhaps unconsciously reflects some of the spectacular showcases of pioneering American sax popularizer Rudy Wiedoeft (1893-1940). As solipsistic as the others’ solos, his mellow tone is reminiscent of Coleman Hawkins’, with the variations played allegro with a wide, smeary vibrato and what seem to be a compendium of boppish licks. Although Gare exposes some falsetto note clusters, most of the time he lapses into almost pre-modern jazz riffs as if he was one part of a fanciful big band reed section. Most tellingly, just before the finale, he suddenly begins playing variations on “Lover Man”.

If Gare relates to the jazz reed tradition, then tenor saxophonist Nathaniel Catchpole alto saxophonist Seymour Wright – the two youngest players – are firmly post-jazz, with timbres attached to the sonic found in free improv and electronica.

On the nearly 19-minute “Maurice Brinton”, for instance, Catchpole, who with Wright and others was in the band 9!, sticks to laminal abstractions that start tremolo and altissimo and expand to strident discordance. Confining himself to constricted timbres, he stretches every impulse to its threshold, resulting in multiphonic drones that pack every sonic space. Wright, who has also recorded with sampler player Yann Charaoui, takes less time to sew together tongue slaps, flattement and mouth percussion to create cylindrical tones that sounds like hamsters laboring on a treadmill. Protracted silences separate that reed strategy from the second track which involves a series of fowl-like honks centred in the saxophone’s gooseneck that suggest a goose’s cries themselves. These shrieks are followed in quick succession by hissing air that take on metallic components and conclusive tongue percussion that sound as if Wright is spitting into the mouthpiece without the reed.

Clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski, who frequently plays solo or in the company of fellow Teutonic explorers like trumpeter Axel Dörner and sampler player Boris Baltschun is a Continental brother to Catchpole. However he maintains his individuality by concentrating on wide, intense chalumeau vibrations. Especially on the lengthier of his two German-titled tracks, the body tube vibrations take in the complementary node patterns for each sound he makes. After unattached breaths rotate to smears and drones, his intermittent wave-form pulsations resemble both pure electronica and veteran Evan Parker’s circular breathing reed style.

This precisely too is what Parker, the London-based soprano saxophonist does on his 19-minute “Solo for Hugh Davies”. Without appearing to take a breath, Parker commences and concludes fortissimo, thrusting reed bites, glottal punctuation and squeaks through his horn’s bell, as the tone gets progressively more unstable the longer and louder he plays. Able to encompass the ancillary passing tones along with the original notes, there are only minor variations in tone, timbre and pitch throughout, until a concluding expelling of air.

Unlike Parker’s monochromic attack, John Butcher aims for sfumato coloration, polyphonically introducing different forms of attack during his nearly 18¾ minute “291/5” – though determining whether each strategy takes up 291 divided by five measures or 58.2 notes in impossible to determine. Beginning with key and mouth percussion, he concentrates on the speedy cyclical rotation of tongue slaps and stops plus abrasive oscillated breaths. As the node-vibrate picking up buzzy overtones, percussive key slaps provide secondary accompaniment. Soon his fortissimo pitches turns grainy and staccato, alternately inflating and narrowing. After five minutes of that, he turns to legato reed exposition. Eventually the reintroduction of rhythmic tongue slapping is joined by starling-like aviary twitters with a slide whistle fillip. Additional reed kisses surmounted by key and nail percussion finally dissolve into echoing bow tones and flanged, fluttering reverb.

The opposite of “easy listening” HORN_BILL must be approached with caution by the uninitiated. But those who revel in this sort of experimentation will be amply rewarded for perseverance.

Track Listing: CD1:1. Maurice Brinton 2. All Wright! 3. Saxophony CD2: 1. Manchmal glaube ich schon, daß es überhaupt keine Liebe mehr gibt 2. Ich kann im Fortschritt keinen Fortschritt sehen 3. 291/5 4. Solo for Hugh Davies

Personnel: Disc1. 1. Nathaniel Catchpole (tenor saxophone); 2. Seymour Wright (alto saxophone); 3. Lou Gare (tenor saxophone); Disc 2. 1. & 2. Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet); 3. John Butcher (tenor saxophone); 4. Evan Parker (soprano saxophone)