Tom Chant/Angharad Davies/Benedict Drew/John Edwards

Decentred
Another Timbre at18

Working both sides of the fence between notated and improvised music is second nature to the four accomplished British musicians featured on this CD. The session’s powerful appeal lies in the sensitive maneuvering the quartet uses to personalize one long piece by John Cage (1912-1992) plus three short indeterminate scores by Michael Pisaro (b.1961). An added bonus is two mid-sized improvisations.

Buffalo, N.Y.-born guitarist Pisaro teaches composition at CalArts. A member of the Wandelweiser Composers Ensemble, his harmony series translates into sound that leaves most sonic decisions to the musicians. Similarly “Four 6”, the last of Cage’s number pieces, utilizes a computer program to distribute the 12 pre-determined sounds to four musicians playing any instrument.

As the centrepiece of Decentred, this 30-minute track takes some of its shape from pulses produced by the electronics and objects of Benedict Drew, a radio artist and soundtrack composer. Also on hand are bassist John Edwards, known for his work with saxophonist John Butcher; reedist Tom Chant, who plays in drummer Eddie Prévost’s free form trio; and violinist Angharad Davies, who plays with harpist Rhodri Davies.

Rattling objects plus Drew’s adagio signal-processed crackles and splutters set the scene for “Four 6”, with the exposition developed through intense, chromatic string plucks, wood-wrenching sul tasto lines and reed-biting slurs. With the instrumental voices closely packed, a sense of impending menace is advanced until interrupted by Chant’s wide, atonal vibrations. Pushing the abrasive string-scratching aside, his overblowing purposely almost drains the oxygen from the studio until a vibe-like ping and a whirligig shrill introduces a percussive variant from scrubbing strings. These continuous unison reverberations chug along until challenged by the saxophonist’s ear-wrenching split tones. The final variant regroups the strings’ strident textures with expanding electronic wave forms from Drew, which are patched in for split-seconds until the piece dissolves into silence. .

Chant’s bass clarinet figures prominently in the two improvisations, exposing altissimo whoops as often as chalumeau growls. On “Activation”, his tone repetitions bond spiccato string tugs, a patterning percussion beat and quivering signal processing. The title tune is more cohesive in its interaction. Characterized by radio-tuning static, sul tasto bass runs, abrasive treble-string responses and isolated reflective reed vibrations, it evolves with unexpected wide-screen-like characterizations. Spacious sweeps from both string players and mallet-like patterns from Drew plus counter-tenor-like parlando from Chant eventually synchronize despite Davies’ irregular shuffle bowing.

As for Pisaro’s indeterminate compositions, each is played by a different duo. Alternating intense interludes – which often expose affiliated nodes and partials – with protracted silences. Chant’s diffuse bottom-scrapping pitches impress the most.

Reflecting on the first-class work here, the strength of the tracks is a direct result of transforming improvisational freedom to notated scores.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Reader, listen: Harmony series No. 10 2. Activtion 3. Four 6 4. La voix qui dit: Harmony series No. 8d 5. Decentring 6. Flux: Harmony series No. 8a

Personnel: Tom Chant (soprano and tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Angharad Davies (violin and objects); John Edwards (bass) and Benedict Drew (electronics and objects)