Gene Coleman/Raed Yassin

The Adventures of Nabil Fawzi
Al Maslakh Recordings 04

Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval
Soul Calling
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1198

Achille Succi/Salvatore Maiore
Pequenas flores do inferno
El Gallo Rojo 314-9

Essentially working with the same two instruments – a single reed and a double bass – these duo CDs showcase the wide diversity of approaches available to inventive players despite these limited resources.

Just as importantly, the discs demonstrate that the language of free improvisation is now universally understood. This is most evident when the first time meeting between Chicago-based bass clarinetist Gene Coleman and Beirut-based bassist Raed Yassin, recorded in Lebanon, sound no less cohesive than the encounter betweens such long-time associates as Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and American bassist Dominic Duval or the Italian duo of reedist Achille Succi and bassist Salvatore Maiore.

While Coelman and Perelman stick to one horn, Modena native Succi, who regularly work in such bands as the Gramelot Ensemble, Nexus and the Italian Instabile Orchestra, diversifies his approach using either alto saxophone or bass clarinet. During the course of the dozen improvisations he exhibits equal facility on both horns, limiting himself to one or the other, depending on the mood of each instant composition.

With only one instrument, but four strings, Sassari-born Maiore is up for any challenge, providing interlocking delivery both arco and pizzicato. Still this versatility shouldn’t be surprising from a bull fiddler who anchors such varied ensembles as the Gramelot, saxophonist Alberto Pinton’s quintet and violist Paolo Botti’s trio.

Particularly noteworthy is Succi’s puzzlingly named composition “Virus”. With a dramatic broken-octave bass clarinet elaboration on a well-oscillated line speedily contrasted with wood-resonated simple single notes from the bassist, the tune accelerates as Succi’s high-pitched agitato slides roughly down to tongue pops and growling flutter tonguing. As Maiore’s raw thumps quicken the action, the reedist concludes with a bravura glissando.

Earlier on, the joint composition “Soulblade” finds warm, chalumeau notes vibrating in double-tongued moderato from the clarinet, brushing against relaxed, pizzicato low notes from Maiore. In contrast “Fedifragola” works up from soundboard pumping and plucking in the bass’s lower quadrant to wood-beating reverberations beneath squeaking and chirping double-tongued clarinet variations from Succi.

Flexibility is on show when Succi turns to his other reed as well. “Hypnopotamo” is all whistles, twitters and sucked breath variation that slow to bubbled andante tones from the saxophone, after the bassist triggers an envelope of thickly bowed pedal-point timbres. Meanwhile “Night Lines”, another Succi line, is practically mainstream. With the alto taking on rasping Johnny Hodges-like balladic tones and Maiore contributing snaking modulations, a middle section of bell-muted saxophone variations turns to multi-syllabic note spraying before concluding in unison with the bass line.

Finally, on the concluding “Settembrini” Succi seems to be vocalizing in an Arabic-styled falsetto voice as often as he’s spitting phrases into his alto. Soon the saxman’s gulping song exhortations take on the timbres of a boy soprano.

Arabic textures are habitual for Raed Yassin, since the sound composer, video artist and actor who uses electronics as well as his bass, lives in his hometown of Beirut. One of Lebanon’s small band of free improvisers – along with trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui – this completely improvised, five-track meeting with Coleman slowly builds to mutual transference,

An equal measure of its success can be attributed to Coleman, who has long focused on musical globalization. Artistic director of Ensemble Noamnesia, which specializes in performing new and experimental music, the reedist has worked with composers such as Helmut Lachenmann and Alvin Curran, plus improvisers such as bassist William Parker and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell.

Unlike Maiore, Yassin concentrates on arco patterns, the better to meld with the wide vibrations from Coleman’s bass clarinet. An example of this occurs on “Nadim Hilmi is in Danger”, where reverberated lines from the bottom portion of the bass strings fasten onto similar chalumeau breathe from the clarinet. At times it’s as if each is one-half of a polyphonic expression.

Subsequently the two switch parts back-and-forth and from high-pitched to low-toned vibrations. Coleman lets loose with shrill flutter tonguing or basement-level sonorous lowing as Yassin moves his bow in measured strokes from up near the scroll down to just above the spike, with bridge-slapping col legno strokes thrown in for good measure. These rounded tonal patterns in almost perfect harmony slyly insinuate that a horn could have strings and a double bass a mouthpiece and reed.

On his own, as in the exposition to “I Won’t Go to Al-Kawkab Al-Yawmi Today”, the bassist constructs a solo out of widely ratcheting string disintegrations that undulate singularly until Coleman announces himself with irregularly vibrated squeaks and trills. These watery pulsations simultaneously reveal the note and its squealed overtones. Soon jiggling sul ponticello pats from Yassin meld with widely vibrated textures from Coleman that seem to come from the bow of the bass clarinet rather than its bell. Concluding with pedal point string accompaniment and wind-shaking string movements, Coleman’s finale is made up of sharp tongue slaps and flutter tonguing that replicate call-and-response actions from one horn.

Different episodes of tension-release, relaxation and agitation and contrapuntal note flapping characterize “A Funny Day in Moore”, the more than 12½-minute centerpiece of the Adventure. Quivering reverb makes up the exposition as the long tones of the clarinet intersect with the bass’s supple tremolo bowing. As the variations are exposed and discharged, pitches and tempos calmly vibrate or quiver then upsurge to sul ponticello manipulation from the bull fiddle and heavily breathed snorts and spurts from the reedist as if he is a fanciful wind god on an antediluvian map. As Yassin rubs his bass strings the wrong way for maximum tautness, Coleman responds with split-tone tongue slaps and slurs until these stretched timbres adhere polyphonically.

This sort of intervallic cohesion is apparent on Soul Calling as well, considering that many years of improvising create the mutual musical language that overcomes any North American-South American divide. Longest of the three sets, it also seems the most drawn out, with expected improv tropes on show. Then again The Adventures of Nabil Fawzi and Pequenas flores do inferno were both recorded a couple of years ago, while this CD dates from 2000.

Since that time, Perelman has concentrating as much on the space and density in his paintings as his saxophone improvisations. While visual and aural improvisations start from a similar aesthetic space, painting is a solo endeavor, while the nine tracks here are augmented by Duval’s presence. Someone whose bass has served as a foil for innovators such as saxophonist Joe McPhee and pianist Cecil Taylor, his command of technique and space in as advanced as the saxophonist’s.

On the concluding “Untitled” for instanced, Duval’s thick and vociferous multi-string coloration fills the aural canvas with flanged note variations as the saxman spits squeaky, slow-paced split tones and flattement. Manipulating triggered electronic reverb, the bassist’s tone stays legato and full-figured, maintaining the tonal centre with concentrated strokes. Meanwhile Perelman’s flighty vibrations turn to foghorn honks and multiphonics reminiscent of the title track.

However, the most characteristic tracks are the almost 15-minute “Surrender to Uncertainly” and the nearly 14-minute “Silkworm”. Commencing with screeching reed split tones and double-stopped concussive lines from the bull fiddle, the first, a winding energy manifestation, divides still further into individual textures. While Duval’s affiliated harmonies remain until supplemented by guitar-like strumming, Perelman sideslips into grainy basement snorts and bird-like cries, climaxing altissimo. As the reedist’s heavily pressured lines coalesce, intimations of half-remembered standards arise as well.

Similar suggestions appear on the later tune with Perelman, three-quarters of the way through suddenly organizes staccato passages of what could be another melody –after amplifying nearly every previous note with extensive glottal punctuation and falsetto passages of rubato ghost notes. As the unflappable Duval continues pulsating basso extensions to this display of Aylerian bugle-like tattoos, you wonder which silkworm is spinning out serpentine luminescent textures.

The idea that Duval fills that role and also that of the master craftsman, who helps the sculptor realize his vision is put into bolder relief on “Ametista”. Here the saxophonist’s glottal punctuation and sudden note clusters are fine-art-like framed by Duval’s additional string pulses which place Perelman’s shrill, discordant peeping in its proper context.

Three examples string-reed meetings reach their goals by different methods.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: Adventures: 1. Episode 1: Damn you Salah! 2. Episode 2: Nadim Hilmi is in Danger 3. Episode 3: A Funny Day in Moore 4. Episode 4: Randa’s on the Phone 5.

Episode 5: I Won’t Go to Al-Kawkab Al-Yawmi Today

Personnel: Adventures: Gene Coleman (bass clarinet) and Raed Yassin (bass)

Track Listing: Pequenas: 1. Otokogokoro 2. Soulblade 3. Panterana 4. Night Lines 5. Hypnopotamo 6. Astroglide 7. Virus 8. KY 9. Rosa 10. Fedifragola 11. Giubek 12. Settembrini

Personnel: Pequenas: Achille Succi (alto saxophone and bass clarinet) and Salvatore Maiore (bass)

Track Listing: Soul: 1. Soul Calling 2. Surrender to Uncertainly 3. Silkworm 4. 7 Octaves 5. Mingmen 6. Ametista 7. Unable to Deliver 8. M.S.M. 9. Untitled

Personnel: Soul: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone) and Dominic Duval (bass)