Matthias Schubert Quartet

Trappola
Red Toucan RT 9330

Lucas Niggli Big Zoom
Celebrate Diversity
Intakt CD 118

Swiss clarinetist Claudio Puntin provides the linkage between these Western European combo sessions, which basically proffer contrasting takes on modern improvised music. Although both are up-to-date expressions of the leader’s concepts –

German tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert on Trappola and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli on Celebrate Diversity – musical choices also refer to divergent earlier jazz strategies.

Encompassing the bounding understatements from the drums of American Tom Rainey, who often works with altoist Tim Berne; and the multifaceted tuba rhythms of Freiburg native Carl Ludwig Hübsch, in whose trio Schubert also plays; the quartet on Trappola – including reedmen Schubert and Puntin – achieves an unfettered pseudo-Dixieland vibe on some tracks. The joyful abandon initially associated with the style is present as well.

On the other hand, modifications in Zoom, Uster-based percussionist Niggli’s long-time working group with two Germans – guitarist Philipp Schaufelberger and trombonist Nils Wogram – on this CD tips its bare-boned sound towards the super-subtle chamber jazz of early 1960s practitioners like clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre.

Adopting a mellow Dr. Jekyll-like musical personality as opposed to his rambunctious Mr. Hyde-like note ejaculations on Trappola, Zug-native Puntin brings to Big Zoom the sort of muted, easy-going linear tones that could fit in with his other gigs playing in contemporary chamber ensembles and composing film music. Solid bassist Peter Herbert, whose tone and timing is unfortunately underutilized on Celebrate Diversity possesses similar credentials, having among his other projects, worked with mainstreamers like American pianist Marc Copland, along with more experimental German reedist Gebhard Ullman.

The highpoints are compositions such as “Pidgin” and “Bridges from Good Times”. The former harmonize Schaufelberger’s Tal Farlow-like picking, gentle trills from Wogram, a vibrating coloratura tone from Puntin and the hint of Latin percussion from Niggli. Constructed with definite sections and transitions, the more than 11-minute other track, showcases folksy, romanticism. Relying mostly on ornamental clarinet puffs, mid-range rubato trombone tones, as well as comping guitar and drum ruffs and patterning, this smooth interlude is only breached in its penultimate minutes by distorted reed work that leads to a recap of the head.

Although elsewhere use is made of near-vocalized tones from the clarinet, internal tongue stopping from the trombonist, and even a flurry of slurred fingering from the guitarist, overall not a note appears out of place on the 10 selections. Calm and laid back, more hocketing intensity from the rhythm instruments and slurry spit from the horns would have been welcome.

Then situation is certainly livelier on the other CD, with the band even performing its own version of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreeveport [sic] Stomp”. Complete with jungle effects and a snorting tuba bottom, the tune is only saved from imitation by Schubert’s contrapuntal astringent textures.

Equally capable of producing rondo coloration and careful waltz time, the band on Trappola gets more mileage from the ability of the four to blend intimations of earlier forms such as circus parade music and Ragtime to antiphonal dissonance. “Upgradeing [sic]”, for instance begins as a near-baroque, adagio piece with rolling clarinet lines on top of tuba pedal point, then picks up speed to andante as Rainey paradiddles and ruffs and Puntin produces a siren-like glissando. Heading into a simple four-to-the-bar swing then speedy Ragtime, the conclusion owes as much to the Woody Woodpecker theme as anything else.

Compositions like “Statik und Penetranz” which make much of the contrast between brass mellowness and wheezing clarinet trills also suggest stripped down versions of the Dutch little Big bands like the ICP Orchestra and the Willem Breuker Kollektief (WBK). When the polyphonic interplay between the horns, plus Schubert’s yakity-sax lines is more apparent, the resemblance is even stronger. However when the tenor saxophonist blows colored air through his horn and Hübsch breaks tones into their partials with valve tightening, the quartet proves that it too can be as serious as the ICP and WBK in their less-jokey moments.

At points as well, the four also manage to simultaneously refer to the freeform dance rhythms of cabalettas and the repetitious layering of Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music, although the later excessive formalism is missing.

More to the point the Schubert Quartet is defined by a composition like the 13½- minute title track which shakes and rattles with Dixieland-style drumming, European peasant dance rhythms and cross-fading tremolos from the horns. Before the tune ends in a burst of tutti polyphony, the pitchsliding has encompassed braying capillary pedal point from the tubaist, wiggling clarinet bites and slap tongue tenor saxophone.

More fun than the other session, Trappola maintains its integrity while it welcomes different ways of approaching the music. More straight-faced, Celebrate Diversity, doesn’t exactly live up to its title and will be preferred by those who revel in modern chamber sounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track listing: Trappola: 1. Plus Minus 2. Soldaten 3. Upgradeing 4. Statik und Penetranz 5. Shreeveport Stomp 6. Don Cordolone 7. Trappola 8. Brattspiel.

Personnel: Trappola: Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone); Claudio Puntin (clarinet); Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba) and Tom Rainey (drums)

Track Listing: Celebrate: 1. Celebrate Diversity 2. Pidgin 3. Schluss 4. Bridges from Good Times 5. Screen Sleep 6. Grosse Sprünge 7. Fly & Foggy 8. Dance for Hermeto 9. Parallel Universum 10. Deux Lezards

Personnel: Celebrate: Nils Wogram (trombone and melodica); Claudio Puntin (clarinet and bass clarinet); Philipp Schaufelberger (guitar); Peter Herbert (bass) and Lucas Niggli (drums and percussion)