Hartsaw/Aspelin/Smith/Bryerton

Ausfegen: Dedicated to Joseph Beuys
Balance Point Acoustics bpa012

Lindsay/Mendoza/Smith/Walter

Jus

Balance Point Acoustics bpa013

Like most other generalities, the differences between so-called European and so-called American free music are more purported then real. Especially in the 21st Century when jet planes, the Internet and other advances have shrunk inter-continental chasms, the gulf between the two proposed by musicians like Derek Bailey – who often had an axe as well as his guitar to grind – seem fanciful.

Take these two notable quartet sessions for instance, united by the presence of Bay area bassist Damon Smith. Although Chicago-based Paul Hartsaw, who often works with keyboardist Jim Baker in his home town, brings jazz’s most characteristic instruments – his tenor and soprano saxophones – to the date, his subtle reed bites and blows wouldn’t be confused with the style of Windy City heroes like Johnny Griffin. Chicago-based drummer, Jerome Bryerton says he’s equally influenced by American and European drummers and has played with stylists as difference as Berlin-based multi-reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop. Furthermore the subtitle of Ausfegen, Dedicated to Joseph Beuys, refers to the work of the late [1921-1986] German Conceptual artist; with one track in particular a direct musical homage.

Conversely, while the instrumentation – clarinets, guitar, bass and lloopp and percussion – on Jus may appear more overtly European, the sonic results are as all-American as the microtonal electro-acoustic experiments that have taken place in Northern California since in the early 1960s. Not only that, but Smith, (with guitarist Henry Kaiser) guitarist Ava Mendoza, (with band leader Moe! Staiano) and hyperactive drummer Weasel Walter (with just about everyone) have also been known to play high-velocity rock music as well as more delicate sonic expressions. Additionally, the Ab, Bb, bass and contrabass clarinet improvisations of Lindsay – a long-time Smith-associate – are fully in the tradition of other West Coast reed polymaths such as John Carter, Jimmy Giuffre and Vinny Golia.

More overtly, tapestries of microtonal and adumbrating silences are woven into many of the tracks on Jus. “Quadrophobia” for instance, which unrolls at a pace slower than largo, revels in atonal peeping and chromatic probes from the clarinetist, tick-tock drum pacing and shattering wood-block smacks and blurry electronic looped passages. Eventually as the rasgueado guitar work and intermittent string plucks subside, the tune’s ultimate variant contrasts pure air currents with strident clarinet pops and wind-tunnel puffs that could arise from Walter’s bagpipe-chanter or Smith’s col legno bass strokes.

Overcoming a variety of unconnected timbral movements and reed tongue stops, “Winter Lights” is similarly sonically diffuse. As the growling undertow from the contrabass clarinet remains almost static, a sequence of pitch-sliding string movements takes centrestage. Adagio in tempo, Mendoza’s finger-styled picks and multi effects link up with Smith’s seminal string shaking and Walter’s rolls, pops and drags until the interface fades into intermittent silences.

Almost as low-key, the defining track on the other CD would seem to be “Broom with Red Bristles”. Celebrating Beuys’ own ausfegen when used a broom to sweep Berlin’s Karl Marx Platz, Aspelin strokes his guitar strings with a shop broom and Smith slides two bows on top of prone prepared double basses. Some movements are barely audible, other seems to warble with chromatic string exposition; and all are contrasted with circular breathing from Hartsaw and pitter-patter snare work and reverberating cymbals from Bryerton. Earlier on, unattached cymbals seem to be vibrating by themselves as the strings scratch abrasively – from beneath their respective bridges – and the reedist outputs strained split tones

Even more expansive is the last track, “Pamphlet Printed on Plastic Bag” – which may be another art reference. No echoes of paper or plastic are audible. Instead you hear metallic clatter and bell-ringing from the percussionist; hearty slaps and rustling string motions from the bassist; guitar filigree; plus multiphonic timbres from the saxophonist, that make it appear as if he’s playing both his horns at once. Following an antiphonal middle section – which redirects the tempo – the four mesh for a contrapuntal finale of slurred and chiming fingering from Aspelin; sul tasto bowing from Smith; bell-popping and kit quivering from Bryerton; and tongue slaps and spetrofluctuation from Hartsaw.

Europeanized or North-Americanized free music, the breath of inspiration on these discs may confound identification. Perhaps both should just be labeled as good music and let go at that.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dedicated: 1. Vitrine 2. Sand 3. Copper 4. Garbage 5. Stone 6. Paper 7. Broom with Red Bristles 8. Pamphlet Printed on Plastic Bag

Personnel: Dedicated: Paul Hartsaw (tenor and soprano saxophones); Kristian Aspelin (guitar and broom); Damon Smith (bass) and Jerome Bryerton (percussion)

Track Listing: Jus: 1. American Current 2. Translucency 3. Quadrophobia 4. Blown Out 5. Discrete Flower Symmetry 6. Winter Light

Personnel: Jus: Jacob Lindsay (Ab, Bb, bass and contrabass clarinets); Ava Mendoza (guitar); Damon Smith (7-string ergo-bass and lloopp) and Weasel Walter (drums, percussion and bagpipe chanter)