Carnival Skin

Carnival Skin
Nemu 003

By Ken Waxman

Blending extended techniques from a variety of genres – including modern notated composition – with elements of Ornette Coleman-like free jazz, Carnival Skin proclaims its individuality in instrumentation.

That’s because the German-American quintet has as one lead voice, Bruce Eisenbeil’s guitar – an instrument whose sinuous fills and rough chording aren’t often heard in hard-core free improv situations. Similarly the overall instrumentation is less than commonplace.

German drummer Klaus Kugel, who works with New York trombonist Steve Swell; and bassist Hillard Greene, who has backed pianist Cecil Taylor; provide the proper rhythm, yet often simultaneously function as complementary soloists. Meanwhile the so-called front line includes the guitar of Eisenbeil, who has also partnered with Swell; the trumpet and piccolo trumpet of younger Peter Evans, who also performs contemporary classical and electro-acoustic music; and veteran clarinetist Perry Robinson, whose affiliation with the New Thing goes back to the early 1960s. Improvising together in twos and threes worked so well that the five decided to attempt this band session.

That such disparate backgrounds should interlock so completely is a tribute both to the players and the material, with the CD including one tune from each band member and the short, group-improvised title track. It features wide intervals floated on Robinson’s rubato upper register warbles, high-note slurs from Evans’ piccolo trumpet and Eisenbeil’s ostinato strumming.

So at ease with jazz language that he at various times suggests Grant Green’s bristling funk-like single-note picking and at others the accelerated slurred fingering and flanged delays that various plectrumists in Coleman’s Prime Time bands aimed at, Esenbeil is no monomaniacal guitar hero.

Instead a more common strategy is blending his cascading fills and sandpaper-like string abrasions with the horn players’ polyphonic output. On the brassman’s “Monster” for instance, the guitarist’s string snapping meets Evans’ quickly vibrated triplets and Robinson’s narrowed tongue squeaks. Elsewhere the trumpeter expresses himself in harder and faster bent notes or plunger choruses and the clarinetist does the same with flute-like whistles or emphasized smears.

Fixated on solid time-keeping throughout, Greene also provides the CD’s most ambitious piece in the almost-12-minute “Iono”. Written as a series of near-concertos, the modal-like melody showcases ringing and resonating guitar rasgueado; low intensity but steady arco lines from the bass; press rolls from Kugel; and backward moving discordant triplets and slurs from the horns, which climax with Robinson’s buzzy, low-pitched solo.

Melodic and discordant at various times – often within the same composition –

Carnival Skin, the band, meets all the compositional challenges presented to it. Carnival Skin, the CD, confirms that unhackneyed, contemporary improvisation can be created no matter the instrumentation or the players’ age or background.

In MusicWorks Issue #96