April 18, 2009
For 4 Ears CD 1970
Live at Vision Festival VI
Clean Feed CF 115 CD
Slightly more than six years separate these two sessions which feature German reedist Alfred 23 Harth, who is now a Seoul resident. The time lapse could be centuries.
While both live-ish performances are equally notable, each is decidedly different. From 2001 Live at Vision Festival VI finds the veteran improviser playing tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet and trumpet in the company of two Americans: percussionist Kevin Norton and the late bassist Wilber Morris. The nine selections are unmistakable high-quality Free Jazz. Taste Tribes on the other hand, recorded in 2007, proffers committed electro-acoustic sounds. The five tracks are created by a virtual trio, and include overdubs from two different session integrated with pre-existing samples.
Bed improvisations involve Harth playing tenor saxophone, clarinet, Kaoss Pad, thumb piano, voice and Dochirak Con Arco with either German organist Hans Joachim Irmler or Günter Müller, a German native who has been a Swiss resident for years, improvising on iPods and electronics. Not only showcased are a couple of instruments that didn’t even exist in 2001, but after initial creation Harth altered and mixed the material in his own Seoul studio.
Although Harth’s involvement with Free Music goes back to the 1960s collaborating with the likes of British drummer Chris Cutler, American guitarist Sonny Sherrock and German composer/keyboardist Heiner Goebbels, he was never part of the unbridled, nearly formless side of that style. Neither are/were Morris and Norton. Eschewing Energy Music, Trio Viriditas instead works in a low-key almost impressionistic genre, with Norton’s ringing vibes creating portamento pulses and Morris’ bass strings vibrating moderato pulses more frequently than spiccato runs or sul ponticello jabs. Operating in double or triple counterpoint, each man gets sufficient solo space, but the character of the interaction changes depending on which instrument the German multi-instrumentalist uses.
For example, the concluding “Peace” piece – Horace Silver’s not Ornette Coleman’s composition – may have some instances of reed-squeaking and below-the-bridge string-slapping, but overall hocketing tones and pitch jumps share space with passages where Harth’s rolling tenor saxophone intensity recalls Ben Webster; Norton’s multi-mallet whacks could come from Milt Jackson; and Morris’ powerful, on-the-beat thumps take up residence in Oscar Pettiford territory.
Compare this with “Hirananyagarbha” where Harth’s reed-biting clarinet exposition rings with Balkan or Klezmer interpolations, and teeters atop triangle slaps and maracas shakes from Norton. Later a soprano saxophone bridge is accompanied by sharp buzzing and long-lined drones from Morris’ strings. “And the loudspeakers loyal to the sea’s deep bass say June” exposes more of Harth’s personalities. Storming, contrapuntal bass clarinet growls make common cause with Norton’s busy drum patterning until the piece concludes with shrill shivers and sprays from Harth’s Don Ayler-styled trumpeting.
Like most saxophonists of his age – 59 – Harth has an allegiance to Coltrane – but in a unique fashion. On “Braggadacio”, while his bass tones are expressive, especially when backed by bouncing vibe slaps and pin-pointed gong strokes, his upper partials are more abstract, consecrated to deconstructed tongue-slaps and verbalized cries. Heading into spetrofluctuation, with blunt, crashing ride cymbal accompaniment from Norton, it remains to Morris to hold things together with boiling string ostinatos.
Firmly fixed in studio technology and electronics, the Harth on Taste Tribes could be a completely different person. The tracks here consist of duets recorded between Harth and Irmler – who has been a guitarist of Krautrock band Faust on and off since 1971 – and others between Harth and Müller, squished together with blurry, oscillated drones. To further complicate matters sonically, one track includes samples from the guitar work of Kawabata Makoto from Japan’s Acid Mothers Temple, while another includes excerpts from the first record by short-lived Krautrock super group Eruption.
Despite the samples, Taste Tribes is no more Heavy Metal than Live at Vision Festival VI is an example of the 1960s’ New Thing. Instead the CD presents multi-layered soundscapes, filtered and looped through processed burrs, reverb and crackles. With instrumental textures shrouded within the fluttering and signal-processed interface, reed sounds that are audible are actually more identifiable and numerous than guitar licks. Defining programming comes on “Doubletwist” and “Eruptive Obfuscation”, the last and penultimate track, each of which times in at around the 18 minute mark.
With the moody Eruption sample detonated into the mix of the later track, the result encompasses undulating oscillations, the occasional double-keyboard crescendo plus intermittent cymbal claps until kalimba-like plucks pierce the opaqueness. Among ring-modulated whooshes and drones, Harth’s reeds create watery quacks, blurry growls or high-pitched whistling. Later, as thick-orchestra-like measures explode from beneath harsh driven textures to reveal submerged strident peeps or small animal-like squeaks, the ear must decide whether these are the sounds of a saxophone reed, bagpipe chanter or computer knob-twisting. Staccato and inchoate, the reduced yet pulsing parameters unfold with certain logic. Eventually the klaxon-like barks and pre-programmed loops meld into chiming interface, concluding with unmistakable air diffused through a reed mouthpiece.
Variations on the same theme, but lacking the spluttering signals from additional samples, “Doubletwist” is an intermezzo that unrolls with gradually accelerating glissandi plus chirping saxophone obbligatos and masticated reed bites from Harth. As so-called real instrumental textures are filtered and sequenced around ping-ponging and ramping loops clanging, shuddering and corkscrewing upwards, the reedist’s finale is again built out of intermittent pauses then pulsations forced through one horn’s body tube.
Whether playing acoustically or electro-acoustically, Harth is showcased equally impressively on both discs.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Live: 1. Wind at the ear says June 2. And the loudspeakers loyal to the sea’s deep bass say June 3. Hirananyagarbha 4. Melancholy 5. A wind reads ruts standing the blue silk beyond pain 6. Viriditas Waltz 7. Braggadacio 8. Fuer die Katz’s deli (light) +Starbucks 9. Peace
Personnel: Live: Alfred 23 Harth (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, trumpet and voice); Wilber Morris (bass) and Kevin Norton (drums, vibraphone, percussion)
Track Listing: Taste: 1. Genuine Imitation* 2. Servicing the Target 3. Weasel Worlds 4. Doubletwist 5. Eruptive Obfuscation+
Personnel: Taste: Alfred 23 Harth (tenor saxophone, clarinet, Kaoss Pad, thumb piano, voice, Dochirak con arco); Hans Joachim Irmler (organ) and Günter Müller (iPods and electronics); *includes guitar sample from Kawabata Makoto; + overdubbed excerpts from "Eruption" 1970 by Conrad Schnitzler, Klaus Freudigmann and Wolfgang Seidel