February 21, 2010
Live in Nickelsdorf
Jazzwerkstatt JW 051
Jazzwerkstatt JW 059
Musicians of all stripes frequently relocate to make a better living and find a more sympathetic playing situation. But few literally travel as far as bassist Clayton Thomas, who a couple of years ago traded his home in Sydney, Australia for one in Berlin. It’s a testament to improvised music’s contemporary universality that Thomas’ trek was to Europe rather than the United States and a tribute to the German capital’s burgeoning improv scene that the bassist from Oz is constantly busy in his adopted city.
Das Treffen was recorded in Berlin, while Aus dates from a triumphant performance during 2007’s Konfrontationen in Nickelsdof, Austria. Besides Thomas’ slap bass thumps and staccato string-slices, the personnel on each CD are different as well. Peripatetic trombonist Johannes Bauer, who has played with everyone from bassist Barry Guy to saxophonist Peter Brötzmann is another-third of the Aus trio, while drummer Tony Buck – another Australian turned Berliner, best-known for his membership in The Necks, completes the triangle. Thomas’ cohorts on the other CD are all German. Trumpeter Axel Dörner balances reductionism with straight-ahead jazz in bands like Monk’s Casino; while percussionist Oliver Steidle in the band Soko Steidle with two of Dörner’s colleagues from Monk’s Casino.
Evolving their interaction over the course of seven live performances, each AUS-er contributes his share to the outstanding performances. Polyphonic and polyrhythmic all the pieces connect instantly and remain sutured throughout each musical twist, turn and wiggle. Bauer, for instance, slurs in the bass clef, quivers higher-pitched timbres and is snakily discursive most of the time, slipping from one tone to another with a full complement of grace notes. Buck clips, clops, rumbles and cymbal squeals when necessary, but also bears down on the beat with bass drum pops. Furthermore, Bauer’s command of the ‘bone is such that at times it appears as if he’s constructing palindromes that are both allegro and moderato.
Drawing out capillary lines in an elastic fashion, Bauer brays one minute and evacuates plunger textures from deep within his horn’s body tube the next. Sometimes he verbalizes at the same time as he blows, creating a secondary sound stream. Bauer’s grace notes can be so silvery and speedy that they’re almost as weightless as bell pings; at other points his triple tonguing and gutbucket smears wildly vibrate up to the stratosphere.
While all this is happening Buck rolls his cymbals and uses opposite sticking on his drum tops, while his pacing encompasses drags, ruffs and scatter-shot pumps. Available with muscular slaps and string ratcheting from sharp objects, Thomas also doesn’t neglect walking when it’s needed to move the piece forward. Finally, when each improvisation decelerates to diminuendo, clockwork pacing falls into place as each player follows the other in timbral downsizing.
Adding a chordal instrument played by John Schröder to brass, strings and percussion doesn’t upset the balance on Das Treffen either. However Dörner’s electronics and Steidle’s percussion and chaos pad introduce novel and sometimes brittle oscillations. On their own, the blurry grinds and sideband undulations seem to move the pianist from creating meditative inside piano string plucks to outputting a high frequency discursive fantasia that includes kinetic be-boppy runs. As attached as he is to distant microtonal whooshes and barely-there tonguing elsewhere, Dörner doesn’t miss an opportunity to respond to Schröder’s rhythmic comping with staccato upper-register melody snatches that could come from “Ko Ko” or “Shaw Nuff”. As well Thomas’ contributions are more than just plucks and slaps. Sometimes he stops the strings as much as he snaps them; at points he creates Morse-code-like pulses. Meanwhile Steidle chimes in with pops, ratamacues and rasping typewriter-like rim and cymbal clattering.
Sporting a title that would comfortably fit on any Bebop session, “Baby Doll” is the centrepiece of this CD, although at more-than-28-minutes it’s more Baby Huey than Baby Doll. The track features fluttering wave forms, voltage extended trumpet wisps, woody pops and sul ponticello squeaks from Thomas, dramatic low-frequency piano chording, plus rim shots and pops from the drummer. With Dörner growling and sounding unvarying tones – often creating his own ostinato – Schröder’s hunt-and-peck pianism is no more prominent than the oscillating flanges and processed signals. During a final variation some of these panning vibrations turn out to originate with Dörner’s valve manipulation as well. Timbre distortion accounted for, the quartet members return to the acoustic properties of their instruments for the finale.
Overall these two CDs demonstrate not only the many unique tonal properties being explored on the Berlin scene, but also the improvisational skills of the six musicians featured. Considering these are only two of the many aggregations to which bassist Thomas lends his skills, his decision to trade shrimp on the barbie for curry wurst on the bun appears to have been a wise one.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Live: 1. Aus 1 2. Aus 2 3. Aus 3 4. Aus 4 5. Aus 5
Personnel: Live: Johannes Bauer (trombone) Clayton Thomas (bass) and Tony Buck (drums)
Track Listing: Das: 1. Res Res 2. Baby Doll 3. Nautic Walking
Personnel: Das: Axel Dörner (trumpet and electronics); John Schröder (piano); Clayton Thomas (bass) and Oliver Steidle (drums, percussion and chaos pad)