The MacroQuarktet

Each Part a Whole
Ruby Flowers RF06CD

Alban Darche

Trumpet Kingdom

BMC CD 136

Brass improvisation in duo or trio forms characterize these two sessions. Both take advantage of trumpet and other horns’ timbres. However the American MacroQuarktet is engrossed in sound patterns available from sonic interaction, while the Hungarian-Belgian-French octet led by Gallic tenor saxophonist Alban Darche is cast in the more familiar form of a modern jazz showcase.

Darche, who composed all the tunes save one here, designed the CD to exhibit how he and follow French musicians – bassist Sébastien Boisseau, drummer Emmanuel Birault, woodwind player Sylvain Rifflet – plus Pécs-born guitarist Gábor Gadó, now based in France, react to the input of different trumpet soloists. While the results are impressive, if not outstanding, the irony is, that except in a matter of degrees, none of the prize-winning trumpeters – Eric Vloeimans from the Netherlands, Belgian Laurent Blondiau and Geoffroy Tamisier from France – sound that different from one another.

Only on “Trumpet Kingdom 2”, listed as a feature for Tamisier, is there any indication of the three doing more than harmonize. Even backed by finger-styled distorted runs and fret-jumping from Gadó and Birault’s thick press rolls and pops, Tamisier’s open-horn emphasis is still mostly languid and moderato, especially when contrasted with saxophone snorts and the other trumpeters’ echoed obbligatos. Besides this, Blondiau attempts some theme deconstruction with unexpected brays and slurs on the brief – less than two minute – “B.E.P.”, but overall the track is taken up by him lobbing note clusters back and forth with Darche. Even when squeezing out muted grace notes on “Hypocoristique”, Blondiau is heraldic, romantic and legato, with the track gaining most of its heft from long-lined ringing licks from Gadó.

In similar fashion, Vloeimans, who won the Boy Edgar Prize, Holland’s most prestigious jazz award, earlier in the decade, is only briefly distinctive on “Joseph & Sa Maman”. A jolly tune that could provide the soundtrack for a Fellini film, it’s built on a slinky bass line from Boisseau. Throughout, Vloeimans’s valve squeaks and tightrope-walking triplets only briefly shatter the circus music-inflected melody. On the other hand “Novenus” does have Vloeimans outputting some unusual rubato bites and flutter-tongued cries, which play off resonating guitar licks. But overall this performance too relies on big-band-styled section work and individual showcases in its penultimate moments when each trumpeter fires off speedy triplets. In fact, Birault’s flashy drum solo is more reminiscent of Buddy Rich at his peak than anything more contemporary.

In contrast, post-modernism is the watchword on Each Part a Whole with its subtly descriptive title. Made up of three interconnected suites, the dramatis persona include bassist Drew Gress, who often works with stylists like pianist Uri Caine and alto saxophonist Tim Berne; drummer Tom Rainey, trapsman of choice for Berne and bassist Mark Helias among many others; Dave Ballou on trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, plastic hose and mutes, whose heavy mainstream credentials don’t preclude work with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Kevin Norton; plus Herb Robertson on cornet, trumpet, electric megaphone, mutes and attachments, who has played with ensembles ranging from bassist Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composer Orchestra to the bands of Berne and pianist Michiel Braam.

Convention isn’t the aim of this CD, which unlike Trumpet Kingdom, deals not with songs, but with moods, sensations and textures. That said, despite an insistence on showcasing tones ranging from quark-sized to massive, the CD never tumbles into static microtonalism or unappealing abstraction. Gress and Rainey are too much of a cooperative rhythm team for that – although you’d never confuse them for Paul Chambers and Art Taylor – or Boisseau and Birault for that matter.

Take “Basal D. Ganglia”, for instance. Among the interlocking parts, separated by pauses and silences, Gress presses thick thumps and Raney drags, rattles, clangs and clatters. Meanwhile Ballou and Robertson are involved in a broken-octave duet, defined through tremolo yelps and squeaks from one horn and wavering rubato slurs from the other. Eventually all of the brass air spaces are filled, as two whinnying lines, one pitched just slightly higher than the other, gallop to the finish line.

With each brassman employing a suitcase full of extensions and add-ons, it’s difficult to ascribe solos to one or the other. Certainly one exhibits livelier plunger tones, splats and squeaks, usually coupled with hand drumming from Rainey and either arco or pizzicato double bass runs. Another – or perhaps it’s the same person – is more reflective, evidentially sucking air backwards into his horn’s bell as the drummer strikes his stick together and offloads rim shots.

Moreover on “Neuroplasticity Part 3”, something – perhaps Robertson’s “attachments” – allows one brassman to sound licks that literally appear to come from a riffing electric guitar. The other then counters with rococo coloration and strident growls. After the first trumpet solos again, this part of the suite is given over to the two vaulting notes at one another, cumulatively building up tension, moving selectively to elevated pitches. Solos intertwine but never quite find one another.

The there’s part 6 of “Ducks and Geese …or Rabbits” where the mike-buzzing from one trumpet evolves into scrapping and cutting timbre, while Gress vibrates and pops his strings with non-Western patterns and Rainey’s distinctive drum beats could be coming from a tom-tom or a djembe. The satisfying summation involves a cappella snarls and pent-up colored air forced from each horn’s bell in turn.

Both of these discs prove that there are plenty of fine noises that can be created by two or three trumpets – with or without upfront reeds and strings. Trumpet Kingdom offers a variation of what multi-brass has sounded like in the past and does in the present, while Each Part a Whole outlines how brass convergence could sound in the future.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Each: Neuroplasticity: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 Ducks and Geese …or Rabbits: 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 6 7. Part 7 Basal D. Ganglia: 8. Part 8 9. Part 9 10. Part 10

Personnel: Each: Herb Robertson (cornet, trumpet, electric megaphone, mutes and attachments); Dave Ballou (trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, plastic hose and mutes Drew Gress (bass and fan) and Tom Rainey (drums and cymbals)

Track Listing: 1. Latin Bruno^ 2. Joseph & Sa Maman*3. Trumpet Kingdom 2^ 4. B.E.P.+ 5 Trumpet Kingdom 3 6. Fanfare du jour 7. Hypocoristique+ 8. Novenus* 9. Alex

Personnel: Eric Vloeimans [solo*], Laurent Blondiau [solo+: 4, 7], Geoffroy Tamisier trumpet [solo^] (trumpet); Alban Darche (tenor saxophone); Sylvain Rifflet (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Gábor Gadó (guitar); Sébastien Boisseau (bass) and Emmanuel Birault (drums)