Zlatko Kaučič

Koncerti ob 30-letnici/30th Anniversary Concerts
Splasc (H) Records CDH 2525.2/CDH 2526.2/CDH 2527.2

For slightly less than two decades, percussionist Zlatko Kaučič has made his home back in his native Slovenia and in the process intensified the connections of the country’s somewhat isolated improvised musicians with their peers from other parts of the world.

Because his musical odyssey during the preceding 15 years took him to Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands, Kaučič now has the status of both a musical ambassador for his country as well as someone connecting Slovenia’s traditional and modern sounds with contemporary music. This three-CD set, commemorating his 30 years as a professional was recorded at three different local festivals. It’s instructive as well as inventive, for each CD finds Kaučič playing with different partners.

Although his expatriate gigging found him with players as different as pianists Tete Montoliu and Burton Greene, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and saxophonist Steve Lacy, the drummer comes from the Goriška brda region, abutting Italy. Thus it’s no shock that the majority of his confreres here are Italian, by birth – bassists Giovani Maier on Doline, also a member of the Italian Instabile Orchestra, and Salvatore Maiore on Slakoper – or by adoption, Argentinean-Italian soprano and baritone saxophonist Javier Girotto, also on Slakoper. What is surprising is his choice of other collaborators. Swiss vocalist Saadet Türköz – who not only improvises, but also adapts Kazakh and Turkish techniques and melodies in an original fashion – joins Kaučič and Maier on Doline. Even more unusual, Tolminski Punt 2 is created by a trio of the percussionist, Free Jazz avatar, German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and local opera baritone Robert Vrčon.

How do the performances work out? – With a mixture of atypically and professionalism. Sometimes the transitions are a little forced, but overall the experiments succeed on individual merits.

Take the six tracks on Slakoper for instance. The most mainstream – in this context – of the three discs, it’s mostly propelled by Girotto’s mercurial examination of every tone he can squeeze from soprano saxophone. He treats most of the originals as sardonic ballads, approaching the compositions the way Sonny Rollins or Archie Shepp would, trying to retain the tunes’ heart, but tweaking them enough so they don’t slide into syrupiness. To this end he’s aided by Kaučič’s timbral rattles and miniature bell pinging as well as Maiore’s bass slaps.

Everything turns around on the 18½-minute, completely improvised “Meeting of Rhinos” however. Growling from his baritone saxophone, Girotto not only produces gutty, funky vamps, but also spits and rumbles enough aleatoric timbres that he exposes more than one contrasting line at the same time. Meanwhile Maiore responds with jagged string jerks and Kaučič with backbeat bumps. Staying staccato in his output, while dipping southwards occasionally for an earth-shattering honk, the reedman appears determined to work out variation upon variation of every note pattern.

Suspended in effortless swing, “Meeting of Rhinos” encompasses guitar-like twangs from the bassist, plus ruffs, heavy snare rebounds and sandpaper-like ratchets on other drums from the percussionist. The saxophonist thickens the performance by punctuating his solo with Afro-Cuban styled verbal “umphs”. Penultimate variations find Girotto re-introducing his soprano sax for some fluttering glissandi with a vibrato wide enough to enfold a rhino, and Kaučič pitching the finale into an almost danceable beat with cymbal smacks and snare rolls.

One woodwind player who never winnows his tone is Brötzmann. Yet his nephritic yowls and pressured tone miraculously fit alongside the Slovenian song-poetry intoned by Vrčon which is often dispassionately accompanied by light bell-tapping, rim shaking and un-lathed cymbal rattling from Kaučič. Naturally, as expected, the classically trained singer has to marshal all his vocal power and techniques on a tune such as “Gori poezija” to declaim the defiant lyrics, especially when up against the saxophonist’s fortissimo power and reed-biting. Challenged, Vrčon seems not to break into sweat. Alongside this, Kaučič provides ratamacues, raps and flams, moderating Brötzmann’s sibilant note tosses and pluralized horn shakes. The finale ricochets between spittle-encrusted note clusters from the saxman and conclusive press rolls from the drummer.

Brötzmann’s repertoire of strident ghost notes in double tongued pitches plus screams and honks, reach both a climax and an unexpected detour when the three musicians tackle “Destrukcije”. Reflecting this “destruction”, the reedist is suitably bellicose, while Vrčon’s parlando is similarly harsh and repetitive. Each syllable sounds direr than the previous one and the baritone’s poetic recitation becomes more theatrical by the minute. Following Kaučič’s introduction of double-time martial beats, which are more brutal and rigid than elsewhere, his flailing equals Brötzmann’s lung-scrapping torrents of sound. Then something remarkable transpires. The fierce saxophonist changes tacks and become almost lyrical. Suddenly it sounds as if Brötzmann is blowing a fairly straightforward version of “East of the Sun” – or is it “My One and Only Love”? Ending in triple counterpoint, Kaučič smacks muscular patterns, Brötzmann snorts in a nephritic fashion, and Vrčon mouths a final “rušiti” or “destroy”.

Istanbul-born, Zürich-based vocalist Türköz’s collaboration with Kaučič and bassist Maier on Doline evolves in a fashion analogous to the rhythm section’s interaction with the other “voices” on the companion CDs. With a combination of autodidactic and trained technique, she’s a match for Vrčon on those tunes which have lyrics. At the same time her vocal melisma, hocketing and glossolalia means that she can improvise non-verbally and in microtones – the equivalent of Girotto’s or Brötzmann’s advanced reed playing.

For instance her onomatopoeia is most pronounced on the title track, when she plumps, gashes and warbles repetitive syllables. The effect is not unlike that of a deathbed lament by a grieving Baltic widow, a concept amplified by Kaučič’s resonations on metalphones, un-lathed cymbals and temple bells. Keeping up the shamanist atmosphere “Birds Live”, which fades into “Ziva-va-mai”, begins with snatches of wild bird songs and ends with percussive drum strokes and walking bass. In between that, Türköz, who has collaborated with players as different as saxophonist Hans Koch and bassist Joëlle Léandre, evokes a mood of primitive surrealism with baritone-pitched tessitura and witch cackles, as the bassist sweeps his strings. Elsewhere her deconstructed syllables and repetitive phrases plus chesty rasps and moist yelps meld perfectly with the non-singing musicians’ strategies. Cross textures from the other two encompass tremolo multiphonics from the bassist’s string set, and the percussionist’s ratcheting, side bounces and clattering rim shots.

Climax of the collaboration is a treatment of “Seminole-Life in the Countryside”. Described as a traditional Turkish song which begins like a tender lullaby, at its conclusion it probably wouldn’t be recognized by most locals near the Black Sea or in the mountains. Theatrical and declarative, Türköz’s exposition includes murmurs, soaring bel canto asides and section where she could be strangling. Meantime Maier vibrates the odd note and Kaučič minimally scrapes a frame drum and rings a bell. Climax of the development occurs with a summation encompassing sul tasto bass string sweeps, bell-tree shaking and toughened parlando which includes growls and muttering – not to mention the affiliated overtones expressed from each.

Vivid and vibrant in his musicianship, Kaučič’s versatility is highlighted on this notable 30th Anniversary salute. Thing is only three of his many formation and formulation are on tap. There are many more.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD 1 – Slakoper: 1. Slakoper 2. Reflettiva 3. Pampa Kids 4. Inmigracion 5. Meeting Of Rhinos 6. Mathias CD 2 – Doline: 1. Birds Live 2. Ziva-va-mai 3. Dance with Unknown 4. Doline 5. Denis nektar 6. Paslus ego tripr 7. Hara mai 8. Moon Looks At You 9. Samanyolu-Life in the Countryside CD 3 - Tolminski Punt 2: 1. Usedlina 2. Noc 3. Gori poezija 4. Destrukcije

Personnel: CD 1 – Slakoper: Javier Girotto (soprano and baritone saxophones); Salvatore Maiore (bass) and Zlatko Kaučič (drums and percussion) CD 2 – Doline: Giovani Maier (bass); Zlatko Kaučič (ground drums and percussion) and Saadet Türköz (voice) CD 3 - Tolminski Punt 2: Peter Brötzmann (tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet); Zlatko Kaučič (drum and percussion) and Robert Vrčon (baritone voice)