Michael Wertmüller/Olaf Rupp

The Specter of Genius
Jazzwerkstatt JW 052

Derek Bailey/Steve Noble

Out of the Past

Ping Pong 004

Except in the most primitive form of blues or so-called roots music, the unadorned sounds of guitar and drum together aren’t usually considered polyphonic enough to be anything more than Spartan. Yet, as he did with so many other musical conventions during his life, British guitarist Derek Bailey (1930-2005) defied this one as well.

The 12 tracks from this never-before issued 1999 session with inventive London drummer Steve Noble are jam-packed with sonic textures and impressions radiating only from the multi-faceted operation of Bailey electric guitar and Noble’s drum kit and additional cymbals. Instructively as well, with sessions like this extant, the configuration has lost its strangeness. On The Specter of Genius, for instance, – with no indication of who is the genius – two Berlin-based players whose influences encompass Punk Rock and Heavy Metal as well as Free Improv and contemporary notated music offer their variations on this theme. Recorded about a decade after the Noble-Bailey meeting, the improvisations by self-taught guitarist Olaf Rupp and drummer Michael Wertmüller, who studied music intensively in Berne and Amsterdam, differ from the other CD due to the drummer’s larger kit and Rupp’s use of both acoustic and electric guitars.

When Out of the Past was recorded, Noble had been associated with Bailey for at least a decade and knew how best to play alongside him. Moreover his other affiliations –including membership in Rip, Rag and Panic, study with a Nigerian master drummer, and experience in bands with other self-directed players such as reedist Lol Coxhill and cellist Tristan Honsinger – gave him other resources to call on when faced with Bailey’s inimitable but often overbearing style.

On “Motion” for instance the guitarist’s distanced, clanging flat picking eventually leads to slurred and splayed note chiming. In response Noble’s flams and rebounds swell to encompass extra beats from his snares, wobbly, glass tube-referencing pings and showers of cymbal pressure. “Breakaway” on the other hand showcases cymbals clattering and triangle chiming as Bailey’s guitar quivers with trebly reverb and squealed notes. As the guitarist’s slammed and scrubbed licks dissolve into wobbly finger-picking, Noble turns from popping and banging parts of his kit with sticks to rubbing drum tops with his palms. Afterwards a wavering timbre hangs in the air, un-attributed to either instrument.

Bailey’s other strategies encompass tropes as different as stroking harsh arpeggios from the strings below the guitar’s bridge and creating dense strums so quick and staccato that they take on band-saw-like properties. Therefore Noble’s sharp-witted ripostes or sonic foreshadowing include Native-American tom-tom resonations, cross-sticking jazz-like snare and cymbal beats, and slapping unattached cymbals in such a way that the resulting wobbles resemble those of a cuckoo clock.

Interestingly enough, “7 Shades”, the final track, not only sums up the duet work, but further elucidates the Noble-Bailey tactics. First distanced, near-silent reverberating scratches from Bailey finally coalesce into chiming runs and then distorted slurs. Noble paradiddles, backbeats and sounds loud press rolls in military fashion. These are met by hammered slack tones from Bailey’s guitar that grimly distance each stroke from the next. Pulling rhythms together for the finale, Noble highlights engaged and contrapuntal doubled pops and press rolls.

If harsh strumming was one of Bailey’s many improvisational tactics, then Rupp glories in the astringent friction he can wring from both of his guitars using rasgueados, arpeggios, tremolos and picados. Rupp, who often plays his guitar in an upright position for a firmer attack, glories in the cluster of granular effects he can produce. Someone who has played with Coxhill and synthesizer player Thomas Lehn among others, he’s matched in linear power and broken-octave harshness by Wertmüller, who composes computer-assisted scores as well as drums for such outfits as the organ-heavy Steamboat Switzerland and a trio with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who practically defines balls-to-the-wall improvising.

With tension-filled tones predominating, the duo work here is denser, more frenetic and voluble than that of Bailey and Noble. Not only that, but Rupp probably outputs more notes on this CD’s first track than Bailey sounds in all of Out of the Past. Amazingly as well, on many tunes the fortissimo and rasgueado extensions that define the guitarist’s output are pummeled from acoustic guitar strings.

To match the guitarist’s constant rubbing and slurred fingering, Wertmüller adds shimmering cymbal movements, boisterous press rolls and a percussion formula which constantly erupts into flams, drags and ruffs. On “A_5” for instance, as concentrated strums from Rupp expose his strings underlying textures and tessitura, the guitarist’s playing becomes so unrestrained that his licks snap past the pick guard to hit other parts of the guitar’s strings and body. To keep up, the drummer whacks, strokes and never slackens his chromatic percussive motion. Wertmüller’s opposite sticking and strokes erupt into near-Heavy Metal pulsations on “A_7”, appending a thunderstorm of cymbal strokes alternating with off beat bops and rolls. Rupp’s rapid downward running picados move beyond flamenco here, attaining a crescendo and then ceasing.

Distortion and reverb are some of the few additions to this muscular interface when Rupp uses his electric guitar. His echoing surfaces on “E_2” are so fortissimo and speedy, for example, that the textures that the drummer slams from his kit are regularized to such an extent that they could be coming form a drum machine.

Droning techo-flutters and Jimi Hendrix-like flanges abound on “E_4”, the most characteristic electric-guitar duet. Here the nearly opaque distortion and manically tremolo twanging are breached by the drummer smacking the metallic parts of his snares and toms while adding paradiddles, backbeats and rolls.

Dense and sturdy to an extreme, the sounds produced by the younger Germans wouldn’t be possible without the stripped down improvisational freedom propagated by earlier players such as the British ones here.

— Kane Waxman

Track Listing: Out: 1. The Long Wait 2. Four for 4 3. Breakaway 4. Raw 5. Unfiltered 6. Motion 7. Out of Sight 8. Bright Moments 9. Pick Up (10. Decoy 11. Time Regained 12. 7 shades

Personnel: Out: Derek Bailey (guitar) and Steve Noble (drums and cymbals)

Track Listing: Specter: 1. A_1 2. E_1 3. A_2 4. E_2 5. E_3 6. A_3 7. A_4 8. E_4 9. A_5 10. A_6 11. E_5 12. A_7 13. E_6 14. A_8 15. A_9 16. A_1 0

Personnel: Specter: Olaf Rupp (electric [E] or acoustic [A] guitar) and Michael Wertmüller (drums)