Acoustic Quartet 2006
Discus 27 CD

By Ken Waxman

Usually occupied with recording studio-intensive electronic music featuring synthesizers, sampling and sound manipulation, British reedist Martin Archer returns to his acoustic roots here. Concisely described by its title, the disc is 73 minutes of improv in the raw, that while a bit meandering, is as notable as Archer’s more self-consciously analytical electro-acoustic projects.

Not only does Archer stick to sopranino and alto saxophones plus bass recorder, but long-time partner John Jasnoch eschews electricity to play acoustic 12-string guitar, oud, mandolin and frame drum. Angela Rosenfeld appends multiphonic cello lines and Charlie Collins adds a sound veneer with background and foreground vibraphone and percussion textures.

Diffident and jaunty at junctures, the ongoing improvisations often rely on broken octave intersections, with say, Rosenfeld’s sul ponticello, tremolo rasps matched with Collins’ concussive vibe reverberations; or Archer’s repetitive flutter tonguing and slurs decorated by Jasnoch’s flanged yet decorous finger-picking.

Surprisingly, for players wedded to technology, an extended section of the lengthiest – almost 32 minute – improvisation finds the group suggesting the sounds of nomads sitting around a desert fire rattling and rubbing percussion instruments. Nasal and cavernous near moose calls from the recorder plus dense scrawls and scrapes from the cello pulsate above hollow frame drum thumps until the piece finally turns more abstract. Guided by Collins’ plucking individual strings beneath the guitar’s bridge and the vibist’s ringing tones, an earlier theme is then recapped, until deciding that sounds can’t be further minimized, the players dissolve into guffaws.

Impressively personal music, the CD proves that there are still many acoustic timbres to explore – even for those committed to studio-based, high-tech formats

In MusicWorks Issue #98