February 1, 2009
Flows and Intensities
No Label No #
Anthony Braxton & the AIMToronto Orchestra
Creative Orchestra (Guelph) 2007
Spool Line SPL 130
Ken Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble
Trio Records TRP-009
Trio Records TRP-SS01-008
EXTENDED PLAY – AIMToronto
By Ken Waxman
Barely four years since its founding, The Association of Improvising Musicians Toronto (AIMToronto), has raised the profile of local improvisers, while nurturing the scene. This almost 200-member, non-profit collective helps find venues in which to hear improvised music – most prominently Somewhere There in Parkdale – presents concerts featuring visiting musicians interacting with locals, and has organized a large improvisers orchestra. One of AIMToronto’s highest profile gigs took place at the Guelph Jazz Festival in 2007, where 18 AIMToronto members played the music of the American improv guru Anthony Braxton with the composer on soprano saxophone. The result was Creative Orchestra (Guelph). It showcases 18 AIMToronto members following the ever-shifting tonal centres in five Braxton compositions.
Throughout these sequences and intervals it’s evident that overtones and undertones are as audible as the melodies, so the aural coloration takes on a 3-D-like effect. Germane to these tracks are the bravura contributions of vocalist Christine Duncan, who personifies the program not only with guttural or bel canto warbling plus inflated or truncated syllables, but also with parlando declarations. Another connecting thread is percussive – with strokes, vibrations and rattles apparent in varied pitches and pressures from Nick Fraser’s and Joe Sorbara’s drums and Brandon Valdivia’s clattering xylophone. Most characteristic of the pieces is Composition 307, a variation of sprechstimme, with Duncan’s falsetto dramatics sharing space with antiphonal vamps from the horns or gong-ringing and rim shots from the percussion. As the resonance arranges itself architecturally, slurs, syllables and sequences peep from the layering, with particularly noteworthy contributions from tenor saxophonist Colin Fisher, growls from Ronda Rindone’s clarinet and Scott Thomson’s shaggy trombone triplets.
The Orchestra’s artistic director, saxophonist Kyle Brenders, studied with Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University and his recording Flows and Intensities suggests one of Braxton’s solo outings. Each of the eight compositions – all but two by Brenders – is oriented around a specific theme or motif played on soprano or tenor saxophone. Working with extended reed techniques and circular breathing, the results are alternately pretty or gritty. Not conventionally “pretty” however, since the modus operandi involves chunky air blown through the horns’ body tubes, echoing ghost notes, adagio pitch-sliding plus extended meditative and undulating textures where audible air intake alternates with flutter tonguing. Repetition of selected clusters or tones are part of the strategy as are times where Brenders seems to be playing two parallel reed lines – one consisting of puffing notes, the other ornamenting them with ghost tones.
Another alumnus of the orchestra’s Guelph foray is guitarist Ken Aldcroft, whose solo guitar lexicon on VoCaBuLaRy is as varied as Brenders’ is for saxophone. Using diverse tuning, the guitarist’s distinctive flattish tone makes full use of flanging and reverb. Some tracks become exercises in controlled feedback, others are built around metallic micro tones and snapping flat picking. Sometimes his spiky runs reference Monkish licks; other times, loops, claw-hammer banjo tones or serrated rock-music extensions are present. Like Brenders he creates a call-and-response pattern as if a guitar duo is present. However his repeated phrases often fade into silences or transform themselves into patterns that form a combination of slack-key and microtonal slurs. These spidery, interlaced textures reverberating back onto one another are most accessible on Sterling Road Blues, which matches a non-showy blues progression that emphasizes the bass, with hesitant string-clumping, finally downshifting into ringing, but not reverberating timbres.
Bringing this game plan to group improv, Trolleys finds Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble meandering between group and solo work. Trombonist Thomson, alto saxophonist Evan Shaw, drummer Sorbara and bassist Wes Neal join Aldcroft here for an outing where pauses are as much a part of the sound as polyphony, though there are points at which disconnect is evident between soloists and band. Individually each player impresses, especially Sorbara with drum stick nerve beats, thick ruffs and distinct hi-hat bops; Shaw, who undulates accentuated lines with a wide vibrato and snorting obbligatos; plus Thomson’s tongue-blurring plunger work and staccato grace notes. At points the trombonist’s blustery braying corrals the others into a bluesy stop-time amble which moves forward for a period until all the players disperse on individual paths. A rubato near-ballad, Apples showcases the most co-operation, involving multilayered counterpoint from each player. Shaw’s irregularly shaped reed osculation makes common cause with Aldcroft’s rhythmically sophisticated echoing fills, while walking bass propels the intersection of burbling trombone runs and ringing guitar licks. Before the climax, Sorbara gooses the tempo as the piece speedily double then triples in time, adding discursive riffs from Thomson and Shaw.
Impressive as part of an orchestra, AIMToronto members are just as estimable individually.
— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #5