Dietrich Eichmann Ensemble

The Hot Days
Leo CD LR 486

Berlin-based composer and improvising pianist Dietrich Eichmann has been involved in creating an array of notated and instantly created sounds during his two-decade long creative career. But it’s likely that this session is the first he – or perhaps any one else – has organized where one of the main musical voices is a hearing aid.

Luckily, Gunnar Brandt-Sigurdsson who “plays”– if that’s the proper term – the device, overcomes the novelty factor and manages to convert it into a flexible improvising voice. In this slice of 21st Century improv, harsh oscillated timbres fashioned from the ear-addition are and just as crucial for this music as the alternating undulating blasts and delicate breaths of American Chris Hennan’s alto saxophone and contrabass clarinet also heard here.

Basically the more-than-63-minute CD is divided between the tracks featuring the contributions of Brandt-Sigurdsson, and those without his unique sound source. “Worm from the Void” is the most instrumentally conventional, with Heenan and Eichmann joined by inventive local percussionist Michael Griener and the two basses of Christian Weber and Alexander Frangenheim, for their only appearance on the session. Two other tracks are stripped-down duets between the drummer and pianist. Griener’s resonating cymbals and bulls eye-positioned press rolls are also featured on the three-part Test of Ethics suite with Eichmann on harpsichord, Heenan on alto saxophone plus Brandt-Sigurdsson’s hearing aid.

How Brandt-Sigurdsson, who in his other life is a tenor vocalist specializing in New Music, became an aural instrument practitioner is an unanswered question. But during the suite and elsewhere, the device’s spectral timbres are meticulously utilized so that its output melds with that of Heenan’s alto saxophone. Whistling and buzzing like an exposed telephone wire, the hearing aid’s shrilling loops also make common cause with Griener’s cymbal undulation and Eichmann’s connective pianism.

Instructively, Heenan’s and Brandt-Sigurdsson’s interaction is given an extended showcase on the almost 18 minute “Five Star Strategy” with only Eichmann as referee. Here the pianist fans the piano keys as if he was shuffling playing cards, pitter patters note clusters, and bows his instrument’s internal strings. Eventually low-frequency chordal patterns are his backing contribution as both “horns” twitter and belch nearly interchangeable textures, finally accelerating to jagged, fortissimo growls. Since only a reed can be tongue-slapped, it’s finally identifiable. Yet that happens just before the piece climaxes with undulating rasps that encompass not only Brandt-Sigurdsson’s strident cries and Hennan’s bubbling breaths, but also Eichmann’s nasal toned bombarde.

Less unique, but ultimately more satisfying – at least sonically – are the pianist’s dialogues with Griener. On their own the communication is as pronounced as that between Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink or Irène Schweizer and Pierre Favre. Innovatively comfortable is probably the best description, as uncoiling syncopation meets snap, slaps and ruffs in one case, while bass-pedal expanded upward runs complement drum top and side maneuvering in the other.

Note the potency of their duets when it turns out that bringing the two bassists and Heenan, on contrabass clarinet, into the mix doesn’t add that many sonic timbres on “The Worm in the Void”. In fact, the track is strikingly hushed for one involving the largest number of musicians. Throughout there’s merely the faint stirrings of metronomic piano chords, while the jumbo reed ululates colored air and the bassists are limited to sul tasto rubs. Thumping paradiddles and flams are the loudest sound. Yet by the finale all five players have molded dragging discord into unison drones, with a conclusive diminuendo fading into spacious silence.

The Hot Days is worth scrutinizing equally for Eichmann’s talents as a composer and player; for Brandt-Sigurdsson’s manipulation of a hitherto unexposed improvising tool; and for Griener’s and Hennan’s sympathetic and connective constructions.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Sweets from Above || Tests of Ethics: 2a) Prom Jitters and Joy 3b) Dedicated Public Servants 4c) Low Income Seniors 5. Fingerprint on New Security Trend 6. The Worm from the Void 7. Hot Stuff (Bouncing Right Back) 8. Intelligence Bowl 9. Five Star Tragedy 10. Decline of the Sighs

Personnel: Chris Heenan (alto saxophone and bass clarinet [all tracks but 1, 5, 8, 10]); Gunnar Brandt-Sigurdsson (hearing aid, electronics and vocals [all tracks but 5, 6, 8]); Dietrich Eichmann (piano, harpsichord or bombarde); Christian Weber [track 6] and Alexander Frangenheim [track 6 (bass) and Michael Griener (drums and percussion [all tracks but 1, 7, 9, 10])