Tom Djll

Bellerophone
Soul On Rice Productions SRPD 02

By Ken Waxman

What distinguishes the work of Tom Djll on solo trumpet and preparations, from others who have dabbled in the field, is that despite the extended techniques and multiphonics, you still know it’s a trumpet he’s manipulating.

Unlike other valve explorers who seem determine to negate the brass qualities that define the instrument, Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Djll occupies himself with accelerating and expanding the trumpet’s range. No one is ever going to confuse his playing with that of Clifford Brown, but the brassman is still part of that jazz-based tradition.

Miles Davis’ muted eloquence, Don Ellis’ electronic tinges, Bill Dixon’s understated dissonance and Don Cherry’s global elaborations infuse his improvisations. So does his academic studies as well as his experience with collaborators, who have ranged from composer Pauline Oliveros to New music drummer William Winant and German multi-reedist Wolfgang Fuchs.

You can get the clearest idea of this on Bellerophone’s final track, Djll’s version of the Depression-era classic “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” Approximating comb-and-tissue paper textures, he strains the familiar melody through his valve tubes, using a wavering timbre and spitting overblowing to simultaneously limn and comment on the melodramatic theme.

That’s the only standard showcased on this memorable release – the other dozen tracks deal with various aspects of extended techniques, often in a solipsistic manner. For instance, “sudd’n belles” fixates on chromatic tones whose pitches change and become more slurry as the piece evolves; “nymphony2” showcases a series of rubato squeals with the resulting sonic midway between that of a cornet and that of someone scouring glass with an abrasive cloth; and “haveitbothwaysophony” features muted grace notes in the (Miles) Davis style fluttering and intersecting with one another in almost pure tones,

On the other hand, “gastrophonie” finds fluttering whistles fading into whiny note suggestions spaced in broken chords, duck quacking glisses and chesty drones, eventually climaxing with rubbery wet mouthpiece osculation. Then there’s “epiphany”, which is almost 7½ minutes of delicately vibrated notes, singly and in rows, finally bisected with mouth burps, droning echoes and back-of-the-throat growls. Rarely playing fortissimo – but capable of that if he so chooses – Djll isn’t adverse to blowing a column of pure air through his instrument as if it was valve-less, at one point devoting most of a track to this technique.

Those searching for a context in which to hear this project could visualize the solos as if they’re standing out from among imaginary accompaniment. Others may appreciate this brassy experimentalism for its cerebral audacity.

In MusicWorks Issue #96