The Zipper
Leo Records CD LR 554

Reunion of a band of musical friends who have each gone his or her separate way since the group existed from 2001 to 2005; this CD serves as a mature re-imaging of the quartet sound.

In truth though, while The Zipper doesn’t irrevocably fasten the contributions of each of these Austrian players to an unalterable methodology, there are points at which the musical conceptions could be less zipped-up and the improvising a tad zippier. Pacing themselves so that the CD’s middle section reaches a crescendo of notable expression, the sensation remains that the hanging musical strands of this three-hour session could have been stitched together more carefully.

Arguably the most notable improvisers who still reside in Upper Austria, saxophonist and clarinetist Tanja Feichtmair and drummer Fredi Pröll are natives of Urichsberg, while cellist Uli Winter lives in Klaffer. Only pianist and electronic manipulator Josef Novotny lives in Vienna, where he has worked with pianist Hannes Löschel and guitarist Burkhard Stangl. The equivalent of a jazz rhythm section, Winter and Pröll have backed pianist Elisabeth Harnik in the Plasmic Quintet. Meanwhile Feichtmair’s experience is the most wide-ranging, having established associations with Americans like bassist Damon Smith and percussionist Gino Robair and Britons such as guitarist John Russell and drummer Roger Turner.

Feichtmair’s sharp-tipped alto saxophone is displayed to best advantage on “Subversive Activities”, while the title tune is a bass clarinet showcase. Progressively advanced with nearly distracted reed-bites on the first tune, her saxophone strategy is abetted by Pröll’s cymbal swipes and Winter’s discontinuous pulsing. As the cellist turns to double-stopping and the drummer to side-scrapping friction, Feichtmair’s tongue-displaced trills add to the cohesion. Novotny’s thick piano voicing constructs a narrative parallel to the one the others have already begun. Finally linking all four parts, the finale is adagio, lyrical, but slightly distant.

Low-frequency piano pulses and exaggerated bass clarinet slurs are zipped together on “The Zipper”. But it’s Pröll’s delicate stick pats, rattles and snaps; the cellist’s thumping bass line; and spiccato echoes from Novotny’s judiciously displayed electronics; which provide the proper backing for Feichtmair’s reed acrobatics. The wave forms become almost visible form by the ultimate variation as Novotny’s electrical impulses swagger from one side of the soundfield to the other, as percussion tones waver beside his.

While the woodwind work on “Stride the Stroke” devises so many variations on reed methodology – from octave jumps, to mid-range honks, diaphragm vibrato and altissimo note shredding – that it’s almost a lesson in organology, it still needs the intervention of the other three to stabilize the piece. Dynamic shifts in timbre from the non-oral instruments allow Feichtmair to downshift to extended bell-muted runs, after delineating note clusters in varying pitches, tones, thickness and intensities,.

Although this Lull-appaloosa reunion isn’t quite the news that would result from a reformed Return to Forever, say, or a recording of the original Masada, The Zipper confirms that the four have the skills and technique to do more sonic exploring in this particular formation.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Latchkey 2. Stride the Stroke 3. Subversive Activities 4. The Zipper 5. The Tittle-tattle 6. Longing for Poetry

Personnel: Tanja Feichtmair (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Josef Novotny (piano and electronics); Uli Winter (cello) and Fredi Pröll (drums)