August 3, 2009
Discus 32 CD
Commonly utilized merely to create novelty sounds in the past – and now superseded in that category by computers and multi-faceted software – the theremin’s unique tonal properties have been adapted to improvisation by only a few gutsy souls. The notable textures heard on Trio’s 14 tracks arise from one of them: Sheffield, England-based Beatrix Ward-Fernandez, who initially trained as a classical violinist.
As its title indicates, however, Trio is no solo effort. While this group has been in attendance at theremin symposia, the focus here is not merely to showcase Lev Termin’s invention. Rather, the instrument’s unique tonal properties are integrated within the context of an improvising trio performance. To this end, Ward-Fernandez, who elsewhere uses both her instruments and electronics in ensembles such as The Navigators with guitarist John Jasnoch and in multi-reed player Mick Beck’s The Gated Community big band, gives plenty of space to the invaluable contributions of the veterans who fill out the trio.
Links to contemporary notated music are reinforced by the inclusion of tones from the flugelhorn, valve trombone or tuba of Derek Saw. At the same time, any tendencies towards formalism or fussiness are countered by the multi-percussion skills of Charlie Collins. Another polymath, Collins, who is also in The Navigators, uses his nearly numberless collection of percussion instruments in situations ranging from membership in Beck’s Feetpackets band and the industrial percussion group Left Hand Right Hand to live performances with local poets.
Recorded live in real time, the trio conception on this CD is cooperative, cumulative and cohesive. For instance on “The Silent Life” extended drum rolls and low-pitched trombone snorts are matched with looped sounds and wriggling sputters from Ward-Fernandez. As the theremin produces an interlude of strident pulses and splutters, Saw modulates upwards with tremolo blats and Collins produces a backbeat from darbuka and claves. Eventually the thematic line is dissociated and deconstructed.
Other pieces are more rhythmically oriented, as on “Simurg” when Saw’s plunger tones and the theremin player’s bee-buzzing curves move aside first to scrapped abrasions and rim shots from Collin, then to his reverberating marimbula configuration, and finally to a martial beat. Not to be overcome, the others finally respond with resonating tuba blasts from Saw and echoing machine wiggles from Ward-Fernandez.
There’s even a point on “Tone Time”, when using a regular kit, Collins creates a recognizable jazz beat that’s amplified by thick gutbucket-style pumps from Saw and near-vocalized shrieks from Ward-Fernandez’s axe. By the finale oscillated palindromes have been suggested by all concerned.
Along with staccato cries and wispy puffs, onomatopoeic wave forms and pitch-sliding near-human soprano cries are other textures Ward-Fernandez brings to the tracks. Layered, the blurry rumbles, suspended wave forms and strident squeaks add an unexpected, but in many cases, proper aural feel to the performances. The partnership works equally well whether her instrument pulsates tones to accompany Collins’ unadorned kalimba-plucked melody on “Lou and Bill” or piles what sounds like motor-driven rasps on top of the drummer’s bell-tree, frame drum and darbuka-like rhythms on “Hullabaloo”.
Rather than those who collect novelty records to hear unprecedented and astounding sounds – no matter the musical value – listeners most interested in close communication among members of an improvising trio are the real audience for this CD.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. T in T 2. Threnody for Delia 3. Manoeuvres 4. Phase Four 5. Sixteen 6. Simurg 7. Lou and Bill 8. Pari Passu 9. Tone Time 10. The Silent Life 11. Hullabaloo 12. A Peculiar Lustre 13. Mirador* 14. Orthodoxy
Personnel: Derek Saw (flugelhorn, valve trombone and tuba); Beatrix Ward-Fernandez (Moog etherwave pro Theremin, EFX and tar-rine*) and Charlie Collins (drum, cymbals, gong, waterphone, metal, kalimba, marimbula, woodblock, cajon, darbuka, frame drum and tamorrah)