Elliott Sharp & Reinhold Friedl

Feuchtify
EMANEM 4133

Probably what it could have sounded like when Liszt and Chopin got together after hours over the pianoforte; or how Cage and Feldman exchanged musical concepts in Manhattan cafeterias, Feuchtify is made up of 13 improvisations by composers who are also part of the so-called serious musician world.

Describing Elliott Sharp this way may be a bit of a misnomer. A prototypical New York polymath – who plays soprano saxophone, dobro, electric fretless guitar, eight-string guitar-bass and computer here – Sharp may have an impressive academic background in serious music, but his recorded efforts are more far-ranging. Some of his collaborators include Downtowner par excellence alto saxophonist/composer John Zorn as well as Hubert Sumlin, who played lead guitar for bluesman Howlin’ Wolf.

Berlin-based Reinhold Friedl is also prodigiously educated and the recipient of various European fellowships. Nevertheless, Friedl – who plays inside piano and prepared piano here – has also collaborated with a wide variety of musicians ranging from avant-rock guitarist Lee Ranaldo to minimalist trombonist Radu Malfatti. He’s also involved with computer music, and is the artistic director of the Zeitkratzer Ensemble, for which Sharp has also composed.

Anything but stiff and decorous, the notable performances on this CD, recorded at New York’s now-defunct Tonic club, are concerned with pointillism and timbral interaction, and dedicated to cross pollinating the textures from the varied instruments.

One prime example of this is “Ify”, the CD’s almost 11½-minute final track. Initially focused on celesta-styled single-note plucks from Friedl and slurred clatters from Sharp’s fretless guitar, a secondary variation includes dense, yet staccato guitar tones with Friedl’s response characterized by occasional string slaps from the piano harp. Eventually mooing sound pressure from the computer subsumes the harsh polyrhythmic reverb, creating a conclusive blend.

Elsewhere, as on “Pend”, kinetic but low-frequency chording is created as stopped piano string intonation is mirrored by fretless guitar licks. But this outcome is then used as an opportunity for Sharp to agitate and thicken his playing, turning his output to an infinitely sustained drone.

Although heavy metal-like staccatissimo licks also figure into the duo’s interaction, the guitarist appears more comfortable exploring what could only be termed an avant-blues style. Mixing knife-edge bottleneck whines with slurred microtonal feints and beneath-the-bridge scraping on “Pel”, Sharp appears to be detuning the guitar as he plays. Meantime Friedl thrusts individual keyboard pitches forward, stopping and striking the strings to create a multi-hued carpet on which the sharp guitar notes gleam like embroidered gemstones.

Other subtle musical coloration include saxophone snorts and trills, metronome-like, clipped piano notes that reference vibraphone bar pressure, piezo-extended frenetic guitar licks and the resonating pressure of what sounds like aluminum plates placed on top of the piano strings. Yet since many of the other wide-ranging timbres are nearly mulched within blurry, triggered signals and computer samples, Feuchtify avoids individual musical braggadocio for essays in sound cooperation.

Agile Free Improvisation of the highest standard, the CD exemplifies the strategy of the more adventurous of 21st Century notated composers. Rather than burrowing in their own (usually academic offices) communing only with themselves and their muse, outward looking types are out-and-about, experimenting with individual concepts in the company of other musicians in galleries, restaurants, clubs and even bars.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: 1. Dict 2. Duc 3. Gress 4. Ject 5. Pel 6. Pend 7. Por 8. Scrib 9. Tract 10. Vert 11. Sub 12. Dis 13. Ify

Personnel: Elliott Sharp (soprano saxophone, dobro, electric fretless guitar, eight-string guitar-bass and computer) and Reinhold Friedl (inside piano and prepared piano)