Michael Keith/John Oswald/Roger Turner

Number Nine

By Ken Waxman

Famous for Plunderphonics, recognized as a notated composer, in addition John Oswald is a well-regarded improviser. Part of the long-standing CCMC, he also participates in many ad-hoc situations, one of which is captured on this fine seven-track CD.

Although both alto saxophonist Oswald and guitarist Michael Keith are Torontonians, the performance is oriented towards reductionist Euro Improv, no doubt due to the trio’s third member: veteran British percussionist Roger Turner. Turner, who has worked with everyone from German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn to British sound singer Phil Minton, brings a minimalist sensibility to the work, but this measured improvising is also self-effacing.

So low-key he seems barely present at times, the drummer’s favored strategies encompass wire brush cymbal slaps and drum top polishing, friction applied to unyielding objects, plus more chain rattling than Morley’s Ghost. For his part Keith knits together chromatic runs and slurred fingering, plus super-fast, extended rasgueado. Occasionally, his bent, bottleneck-like picking creates distorted string phrasing as if he was stopping and sliding piano strings.

Interpolating contrapuntal phrases, Oswald’s response to the others’ includes distracted, wobbly reed tones as well as stark, reverberating vibratos. Extending the trio’s polyphonic intentions, tongue slaps and flutters often give way to swift, trilling split tones that hover stridently in altissimo territory then ascend to squeaking air raid siren pulses.

Defiantly atonal and minimal, Number Nine is still insolently entertaining, since the constant inventiveness and coordinated communication among the three keeps things moving whether the improvisation is two minutes long or nearly 14.

In MusicWorks Issue #98