October 5, 2007
James Falzone – Allos Musica
The Sign and the Thing Signified
Allos Document 002
The Flatlands Collective
Skycap Cap 035
Clarinetist James Falzone and percussionist Tim Mulvenna plus a cellist and a double bassist are the connective strands of these two sessions recorded four month apart in Chicago, although each is unique in many ways. The Sign and the Thing Signified is most notable for exposing the compositional and playing talents of Falzone. However, appreciation for the 13 tracks delineated in barely 41 minutes, depends on the listener’s tolerance for chamber-improv assayed by bassoon, viola, cello and bassist Brian Dibble as well as Falzone and Mulvenna.
Gnomade’s compositions are suppler and offer more surprises than those on the other CD. One reason may be that seven of the 11 tunes are by Jorrit Dijkstra, a talented composer and player who divides his time between the U.S. and his home country of the Netherlands. Playing alto saxophone, lyricon and analog synthesizer here, Dijkstra is joined by Falzone and Mulvenna plus modern gutbucket specialist trombonist Jeb Bishop, solid bassist Jason Roebke and versatile cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm – all of whom are among the Windy City’s first-call improvisers.
Perhaps the legit background of Falzone, who teaches courses in music theory, composition, and world music and is music director of Grace Chicago Church also contributes to his solo CD’s solemnity – at least compare to the Flatlands’ disc. Similarly one of the disc’s most arresting performances is a motet-like recasting of a line from an opera by 17th Century British composer Henry Purcell.
Whether it adds more or less fuel to that legit/improv equation, “The 4:08”, Flazone’s composition on Gnomade, is, in contrast, a stop-time outing that moves from allegro to staccatissimo and back again. Replete with false climaxes and head recaps, the tune features near-Dixieland clarinet riffs and punk-rock-like slashing cello screeds in the centre of contrapuntal call-and-response vamps.
Throughout, Falzone’s legato inflections translate successfully into fluid lines which add to the overall gestalt by unambiguously contrasting with Bishop’s gritty slide expansions and guttural snorts, as well as Dijkstra’s sharp split tones and intense, jagged lines.
Instrumental placement and arrangement also gives the tracks three-dimensional timbral protuberances, that vary according to the musical make up. For instance, “Rabbits” is a simple Freebop swinger. Composed by Bishop, it starts off with the clarinetist’s flutter tonguing on top of rhythmically airy bass and drums as contrapuntal trombone and alto lines move around him. After a thematic shift to the alto saxophone and before the head is recapped by plunger trombone and clarinet glissandi, Roebke explores cross plucking and resonating strokes in his solo, while the cellist splatters tones as if he’s playing rock-guitar.
Dijkstra’s “Dipje” unfolds with a vaudeville-like rhythmic tap dance created by Mulvenna’s rim shot and wooden stick nerve beats. Harmonized horns plus occasional vibrating pulsation from the reedist’s synthesizer find the backing varying from outer-space splashes to mellow harmonics, as the alto’s lyrical cadences carry the tune.
More dissonant, “Flank” varies its tonal centre as grace notes from the trombone create slurry pitches on which sharp saxophone obbligatos are displayed. Rappelling down the scale with repeated aviary split tones, Dijkstra’s gritty vibrations dissolve into nearly inaudible percussion squeaks and rubs plus slinky, squeaky trills. Concluding with a thick carpet of echoing and descending tones, drum rumbles and pops guide the theme to a finale.
Freed from obvious swinging and time-keeping, percussionist Mulvenna performs a different role on The Sign and the Thing Signified. He supplies the rhythmic impetus, potentially compromised by Katherine Young’s bassoon, Amy Cimini’s viola and Kevin Davis’ cello. With the three more colorists than soloists, the most memorable use of the bassoon’s distinctive textures occur on “A Cord of Thee Strands … broken”. Here the serpentine double-reed tone introduces a composition whose inflections also encompass Arabic-styled percussion ruffs, rhythmic ground bass pattering and rococo echoes from the other strings. A half-march beat and the reintroduced theme played by bassoon and clarinet in counterpoint complete the references.
More multi-faceted – and decidedly more satisfying than the seven two-minutes-or-less scene setters – is the more-than-nine-minute “Akrasia”. A challenging exposition which provides the date’s most winning use of varied musical motifs, it also reveals as many musical references as a database. Episodic, it unfolds gradually, as gamelan-like temple-bell resonation shatters the introductory silence. Soon, Falzone’s clarinet explodes into a paroxysm of stylized runs, arching over the strings that are playing in triple counterpoint with one another. Young carries the melody again, but her horizontal reading is continuously interrupted by sweeping clarinet trills and vibrated cymbals. Sul ponticello viola and cello scrapes, rhythmic arco bass lines and percussion ruffs and rattles lead first to clarinet overblowing with extended pauses, then to a bassoon-led episode resembling an ecclesiastical procession. Having touched on a multitude of classical music eras, the tune wraps up with a combination Spanish motif and Klezmer line outlined with rattling cymbals.
It’s a credit to the clarinetist’s arranging skill that “Dido’s Lament,” adapted by the clarinetist from Purcell’s opera, sounds no less modern than the other compositions. An adagio nocturne expressed portamento by the strings, it continues in march time once zart drumming and the clarinetist’s cawing split tones enter the mix. Summation is a beautifully harmonized coda.
Proving elsewhere that his solo clarinet voicing also encompasses Jimmy Giuffre-like intervallic leaps, the CD serves as an exceptional showcase for Falzone’s. As a first effort it’s commendable, but fewer longer tracks would have served him better. Overall though, Falzone’s contributions to Gnomade make that CD a memorable outing, and suggest further framing and organizing of his own work may allow him to create a date similar to the other CD in the future.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Gnomade: 1. Wire Tap 2. Gnomade 3. Five to Twelve 4. Flank 5. Alp-Doodler 6. Mute 7. Rabbits 8. Longtones 9. The 4:08 10. Slitch 11. Dipje
Personnel: Gnomade: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Jorrit Dijkstra (alto saxophone, lyricon and analog synthesizer); James Falzone (clarinet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); Jason Roebke (bass) and Tim Mulvenna (drums)
Track Listing: Sign: 1. The Sign and the Thing Signified 1 2. A Cord of Thee Strands … broken 3. Cut, Tear, Curl 4. Ten Months 5. Godric 6. Presser le pas 7. Dido’s Lament 8. The Sign and the Thing Signified 2 9. S’égarer de pas 10. Akrasia 11. Jean Valjean 12. The Tipping Point 13. The Sign and the Thing Signified 3
Personnel: Sign: James Falzone (clarinet); Katherine Young (bassoon); Amy Cimini (viola); Kevin Davis (cello); Brian Dibble (bass) and Tim Mulvenna (drums and percussion)