Aram Shelton/Steini Gunnarson

Son of Gunnar Ton of Shel
Edgetone Records EDT 4055

Jack Wright and Alban Bailly

The Harmony Of Contradictions

Sort of Records/Abstract on Black Sort of 019/AOB 004

Reeds and strings in a duo formation played by American saxophonists and European-born guitarists couldn’t sound much different than how they do on these CDs, even though all four players operate in what is still loosely called improv-based experimental music,

Gudmundur Steini Gunnarson, a California-based Icelander playing prepared guitar and processing and another West Coast transplant – via Florida and Chicago – Aram Shelton, with his trumpet, alto saxophone, bass clarinet and processing create a multi-textured work committed to the transforming nature of electronics. However veteran Philadelphia-based soprano and alto saxophonist Jack Wright and acoustic guitarist Alban Bailly, a Philly-based native of France, achieve the same sort of time and tempo displacement and idiosyncratic structuring on The Harmony Of Contradictions using purely acoustic instruments.

As a matter of fact, only on a track such as “A Charming Decoy” on Son of Gunnar Ton of Shel, are true instrumental identities finally revealed. And that’s only because Shelton suddenly vibrates a chalumeau tone from the bass clarinet, mixing his timbres with those caused by Gunnarson’s chromatic slaps on unplugged guitar. Although that piece concludes with side-slipping reed smears and triple tonguing plus bottleneck-styled picking, these are sonic anomalies. Throughout most of the other tracks, cacophonous and undifferentiated metallic patches and loops plus fuzzy, pointillist multiphonics are more common interface. Floating tones encompass string rattles, strummed clinks, muted bras puffs and chromatic saxophone trills.

Defining track is the three-part “Constitution”. As Gunnarson’s hand-tapped strings provide a percussive undertow, while pickups separate panning lines, Shelton triggers a sequence of processed alto saxophone split tones, which double back onto one another. Operating as if a saxophone section was standing behind Shelton’s chanter-like blows, each reed tone still possesses distinctive pitch, tempo and volume variations. Also revealing his multi-musical personalities is the guitarist, with creaking and scraping licks, ringing flanges plus circling, motor-driven-styled resonations and amp buzzes. Following a climax of tugboat horn-like reed blurts along with the nearly detuned guitar percussiveness, melody snatches turn diminuendo.

Meanwhile distanced, wispy reed expiration and sharp clanking strums are part of the interlocking quiet of the other CD. More notably, each bilingually titled track also speaks in a third language of ambiguous microtones.

A characteristic interaction is apparent with the concluding “la raison de la folie = the reason for madness”. Here Bailly appears to be roughly rubbing cardboard along his strings while Wright croaks out an intermezzo of tongue flutters, discursive sound clusters and ghost note patterns. An interlude of inchoate, unattached timbres is finally resolved as trebly string pick and pops fade into silence.

Preceding that, the distinguishing measures on “la viellesse de l’innocence = the antiquity of innocence” are neither old-fashioned nor guileless. As the saxophonist’s pinched reed cries inflate to pulsating yelps, flattement and slurs, the guitarist responds in kind with pats and rubs on his strings, reconfiguring the resulting tones more slowly than adagio, further exposing singular twangs, licks, slurs and fills.

Additionally each player turns staccato outpouring to its best advantage. Wright can masticate his reed to produce peeps and roars, while Bailly – when not abrasively wiping his strings or picking tones from beneath the bridge – stretches a single note almost indefinitely without breaking it or the interlocking sound.

As the definition of improvised, experimental music is fluid, so too are the adaptations these duos have brainstormed to produce these notable sounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Son: 1. In Circulation 2. A Charming Decoy 3. Constitution [Part 1] 4. Constitution [Part 2] 5. Constitution [Part 3] 6. The Populous 7. One Early Riser

Personnel: Son: Aram Shelton (trumpet, alto saxophone, bass clarinet and processing) and Gudmundur Steini Gunnarson (prepared guitar and processing)

Track Listing: Harmony: 1. la folie de la raison = the madness of reason 2. l’innocence des viellards = the innocence of old men 3. la beauté des laids = the beauty of the ugly 4. l’hésitation des audacieux = the hesitation of the bold 5., l’audacité des hésitants = boldness of the hesitant 6. la laideur de la beauté = the ugliness of beauty 7. la viellesse de l’innocence = the antiquity of innocence 8. la raison de la folie = the reason for madness

Personnel: Harmony: Jack Wright (soprano and alto saxophone) and Alban Bailly (acoustic guitar)