Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver

Live at the Loft
ILK 148 CD

Lotte Anker/Sylvie Courvoisier/Ikue MoriV

Alien Huddle

Intakt CD 144

Germinating notable improvised music is more a function of intellect and emotion than gender, race or geography – as these sessions led by Danish reedist Lotte Anker demonstrate. Live at the Loft, recorded in Köln, finds her playing with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, both American and male. Alien Huddle on the other hand, was recorded in New York, and features the Dane in the company of two other non-Americans or aliens: Swiss-born pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and Japanese-born electronics-manipulator Ikue Mori, both of whom, like Anker, are female.

Itemizing these differences adds up to approximately nothing, since each of these stimulating dates takes a different path to notoriety. Unfolding through 11 shorter improvisations – the lengthiest is a shade over 5½ minutes – the three women trace, stroke and caress the multiple textures that results from the properties of each instrument. Sonic exposure is more varied as well, since Anker plays her soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Mori relies on a panoply of electronic settings, loops and add-ons; and Courvoisier’s hands are as often inside her piano as playing on it.

Meanwhile Live at the Loft is a Free Jazz session which pinpoints the cohesive talents of the trio members, who have been playing together as a group on-and-off since 2003. Individually, each of the tracks is longer than any on the other CD, with the two most impressive clocking in at slightly longer than 20 and more than 26½ minutes respectively.

The later, “Magic Carpet” aptly demonstrates this long-standing aggregation’s sonic sensitivity. There’s no lead instrument, musical narrative is developed by each player in turn, but full cohesion is the result of interaction. Early on Anker’s barely-there adagio tones are strengthened by low-frequency runs and soundboard echoes from Taborn plus minimalist drum rumbles from Cleaver. When the reedist finally unleashes long-lined andante trills, the pianist – whose playing throughout is more upfront than Courvoisier’s on Alien Huddle – turns his wobbly comping to steady, two-handed chording, decorating with a rolling carpet of chromatic notes Anker’s bravura breaths and theme restatements. Summing up with what in other circumstances would be the shout chorus, the pianist octave jumps into near-honky-tonk runs and the drummer concludes with spectacular rolls, rim shots and ratamacues.

Switching from the alto of the former track to tenor saxophone on “Real Solid”, Anker’s strategy emphasizes circles of guttural notes and glottal punctuation. Broad, fortissimo split tones from the saxophonist meld with galloping, repetitive note clusters from pianist, sometimes emphasizing similar tremolo note patterns simultaneously in either hand. While Cleaver’s sensitive pops, rebounds and flams echo in the background, Anker and Taborn concentrate on adding tension into the performance, which only dissipates when her solipsistic tongue pressures are subsumed by a cross-sticking summation from the drummer.

Meandering – in a contradictory though positive fashion – the sounds on Alien Huddle ripple, wiggle and slither, when compared to Live at the Loft’s direct exposition. Discordant at points, the only time the three reach full cry is on the appropriately titled “Ostrich War”. On tenor, Anker overblows as if she was in rehearsal for a revival of the Machine Gun session, embellishing her solos with guttural honks, double-tongued runs and animalistic cries. Meantime Courvoisier plinks and plunks on her piano strings and Mori, who began her musical career in the1970s as drummer of the No Wave band DNA, directs her instrument’s buzzing oscillations and blurry signal processing towards a percussive space. With shaking cymbals vibrating on the piano’s internal strings for additional opaqueness, the piece’s climax involving echoing Woody Woodpecker-like cries from the saxophonist.

Despite that uncharacteristic noise detonation, most of the rest of the CD revolves around low-frequency keyboard fantasia, choked sighs and peeps from the saxophones and crackles, growls, pulses and loops from the electronics.

Among the knob-twisting and patching on a track like “Robins Quarrel” – a fowl battle that’s definitely more restrained than the ostriches’ conflict – irregular vibrations from Mori’s watery signal processing face off with rumbles and what appears to be a discordant reorganization of “Tea for Two” from the pianist. “Woodpecker Peeps” on the other hand doesn’t directly relate to the rat-tat-tats of that bird, but instead suggest quacking discord pulled from Mori’s programs.

Anker gets her chance to exhibit fortissimo multiphonics on “Dancing Rooster Comp” – continuing the aviary references – as she modulates from coloratura vibrato up to altissimo screams. All the while the other two use stopped and strummed piano innards or modulated flanged whooshes to provide the rhythmic bottom.

If one track provides summation of the trio’s interaction, it’s “Blackbird” which alternates quiet and noise. The former encompasses slapped piano keys, narrowed reed timbres and ring modulator-like whooshes and clangs. Spluttering and whistling electronic timbres, heavy syncopated piano chords and strident soprano sax squeals characterize the opposite mood.

Although it may merely be a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, anyone confronted by the talents of Anker and company on both discs can be forgiven for being indecisive as to which to choose.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Alien: 1. Morning Dove 2. Woodpecker Peeks 3. Sparkling Sparrows 4. Night Owl 5. Robins Quarrel 6. Dancing Rooster Comp 7. Whistling Swan 8. Crow and Raven 9. Blackbird 10. Ostrich War 11.Great White Heron

Personnel: Alien: Lotte Anker (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones); Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) and Ikue Mori (electronics)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Magic Carpet 2. Real Solid 3. Berber

Personnel: Live: Lotte Anker (alto and tenor saxophones); Craig Taborn (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)