Ariel Shibolet and Between the Strings

Live at the Tel Aviv Museum
Kadima KCR 013

Sebastian Hilken/Anat Cohavi/Klaus Janek

No. 1

Sternschuss No. 1

No longer a novelty, the idea of a saxophonist improvising along with string players is now almost commonplace. But the key to these collaborations is that rather than playing alongside one another – as conventional Bird-and-Strings-like session often do – the best of these dates succinctly combine both elements.

That’s the story behind No. 1 and Live at the Tel Aviv Museum, although both approach this collaboration in a different way. The first CD is a 10-part suite created by one of the working groups of Israeli-born, Berlin-based soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Anat Cohavi. Her partners are Sebastian Hilken, playing cello and modified electronics, and bassist Klaus Janek, who in the past has recorded two solo CDs interpreting the Caspar folk tale.

Although featuring another Israeli saxophonist, Live is divided into three distinct programs. Soprano saxophonist Ariel Shibolet, who has play with among others American bassist Damon Smith and German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, as well as a clutch of advanced Israeli players, has the first track to himself. The second features on bass and electronics, JC Jones a well-travelled musician who has recorded with everyone from American saxophonist Ned Rothenberg to Israel reedist Albert Berger – incidentally one of Cohavi’s teachers – as well as Daniel Hoffman on violin and Nori Jacoby on viola. The final and most illustrative track unites all four musicians.

Earlier on, Shibolet has probed the limits of his instrument, sluicing from altissimo shills to almost inaudible mouth breaths. Among the extended interludes of circular breathing are those where the sounds appear as inevitable as the movements of the tide. Nearly frenzied at points, with Shibolet’s playing involving bubbling reflux and waves of continuous timbres, he often creates multiphonics of different shades and lengths. Later he modulates to singular breaths that seem wrenched from the innards of the horn, tops them with split tones that expose underlying static as well as more melodic notes, and finally begins humming along with the two previous tones.

On its own, the Between the String Trio exhibits admirable unison work that flits among spiccato sprints, sul tasto slurs, staccato scrapes and slack sonics, with Jones’ heavy slaps and pops directing curved and plucks from the smaller strings as he carves out a bottom base.

Together the four produce an atmospheric intermezzo which mixes Shibolet’s mouthpiece squeaks, reed bites and polyphonic flurries with massed string shuffle-bowing and tremolo plops. As Hoffman and Jacoby again pitch-slide past staccato lines and harsh, ricocheting stops, Jones similarly slaps his bass to keep individual parts from breaking off on their own. Detaching the nodes still further the saxophonist yelps timbral bites, honks moistly and trumpets sharp circular trills. As Jones anchors the performance with belly and ribs smacks on his bass, the reedist’s ultimate ear-splitting whistle is cleverly mated to the other strings’ tremolo vibrations.

More a concordance than the series of sound episodes which characterized the other CD, Cohavi, Hilken and Janek appear more committed to group statements. Although one instrument fewer is in the mix, a greater variety of timbres are available since not only does the cellist contribute understated electronic lines, but Cohavi frequently shifts between soprano saxophone and bass clarinet.

With penetrating altissimo available from the smaller horn and soothing chalumeau from the larger woodwind, she can offer more harmonic impetus when confronting the string players’ staccato pumps and stops. Additionally the woody, low-pitched properties of the bass and the cello’s warm, legato bowing are also put to good use.

Other aural colors appear as well. On “part e”, for instance the cello’s stropped, atonal sweeps line up alongside reverberations from the bass. These gradually mutate from thick, strangle-string echoes to resonating ngoni-like snaps, as the reedist lows colored reed bites.

Providing more of a chromatic plan on “part c,” Cohavi snorts, snarls and tongue stops, honks and exhibits glissandi on bass clarinet, as the cellist scratches sul ponticello lines – that might be striated due to electronics – and Janek rhythmically thumps in broken octaves. Finally on “part j”, breaking away from close mooring of bass plucks plus woody taps from Janek, Cohavi sounds a discursive, winnowing bark which perfectly matches the spiccato bowing emanating from Hilken’s instrument.

With strings now firmly integrated into the elaboration of improvised music, both these bands suggest different paths along which to travel to regard the interface.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: No. 1: 1. part a 2. part b 3. part c 4. part d 5 part e 6. part f 7. part g 8. part h 9. part i 10. part j

Personnel: No. 1: Anat Cohavi (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet); Sebastian Hilken (cello and electronics) and Klaus Janek (bass)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Part 1* 2. Part 2+ 3. Part 3*+

Personnel: Live: Ariel Shibolet (soprano saxophone)* and Daniel Hoffman (violin); Nori Jacoby (viola) and JC Jones (bass and live electronics)+