Axel Dörner & Erhard Hirt

Black Box
Acheulian Handaxe aha 0803 CD

Jean-Luc Cappozzo/Erwan Keravec

Air Brut

Innacor INNA 1001

Stretching the timbral capacities of the trumpet has been a preoccupation of so many inventive brass players during the last decade that the textures associated with brass have been redefined. Redefined too have been the appropriate partners for free-form improvisations as is proven on these two notable CDs.

Someone who divides his recent career between playing high-quality Free Jazz with ensembles like The Electrics and Die Enttäuschung to individual tone exploration on his own or with players like saxophonist John Butcher or tubaist Robin Hayward, Berlin’s Axel Dörner faces off with Münster-based guitarist Erhard Hirt on Black Box. Hirt has worked with the Wuppertaler Improvisations Orchester and individuals such as drummer Paul Lovens.

Air Brut is more interesting still. For while formally trained trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo has been involved in duo improv with the likes of bassist Joëlle Léandre, the native of Luzillé, France is more usually found in Jazz ensembles with players such as bassist Claude Tchamitchian or pianist Sophia Domancich. Even more remarkable, his partner on this nine-part series of free-form improvisations is Breton bagpiper Erwan Keravec, a specialist in more tradition-oriented settings. Since French improvisers have created sounds they call “imaginary folklore”; this CD, if it must be defined musically, is an example of “free-form folklore”.

During the course of tracks lasting from barely one minute to almost 16¾, the familiarity each man has with the contours of his instrument is obvious. Whether it’s the pulsating layered drone Keravec often produces as an ostinato for these improvisations, or the heraldic, mid-range lyricism Cappozzo exhibits, it’s obvious their technical command is impressive. That’s why the atonal peeps and metal reverberating brass blasts from one plus the accelerated, chanter runs and straining bellows runs from the other are so exciting: these are players fully conversant with expected styles stretching their imagination – and instrumental techniques – to explore a new idiom.

Using a variety of pipes, trumpets, reeds and brass, the two interlace sections where Cappozzo’s clear tone and Keravec’s staccato pumping work up to a series of repetitive thickening pulses, which continuously sweep southwards and northwards. When the constricted pitches finally resound and resonate, the cumulative results are sonic textures that deconstruct and redirect familiar tones into curlicue pitches.

Toying with these concepts throughout, the most extensive manifestation occurs on the final and title track. The bagpiper demonstrating his circular breathing by pushing the instrument’s output to a continuous drone, then downshifting to strident yelps and sluggish puffs. Meanwhile the trumpeter hardens his hitherto willowy line so that it becomes solid and studded with growls plus spittle slurs and brays. Contrapuntally the two operate in sharp contrast, with Keravec percussively pumping his bellows and Cappozzo outlining a muted rubato air. For the final variation Keravec introduces his own reed trumpet which expertly replicates Cappozzo’s tongue patterning and animal-like squeaks.

While Cappozzo and Keravec evolve a strategy to stretch the expected textures of their respective instruments, Dörner and Hirt improvise in such a way as to mask the majority of the properties identified with theirs. At points during the two either-side-of-20-minute tracks which make up Black Box, linking a specific tone to a particular instrument – or even any instrument at all – appears impossible. Rumbling and granulized pitches created by the guitarist are often adumbrated or succeeded by passages from the trumpeter which are as likely to consist of pursed lip actions and unaccented buzzes as Harmon-muted wisps or plunger growls.

Sounding as if signal-processed oscillation are as much part of his guitar strategy as vibrating strings with an e-bow or hand-tapping them, Hirt produces an undercurrent of crackling and grinding flanges plus static whistles which seem to pulse underneath the duo, even as he’s soloing. With the undercurrent encompassing textures ranging from ring modulator-like clangs to throbbing asides that could have leeched in from a 1950s Sci-Fi soundtrack, there’s still room for Dörner’s inflated grace notes, blurry tone expelling, air pops and capillary buzzes. And while he can distort a chord as well as anyone, Hirt’s output also includes dainty harpsichord-like patterning and barely-there strums.

Not the CDs for the traditional fan of any of the instruments listed, or even someone characterized as a Jazz fan, Air Brut and Black Box are valuable because each demonstrates how much further instrumental language can be stretched by sympatric duos.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Black: 1. Black Box 1 2. Black Box 2

Personnel: Black: Axel Dörner (trumpet) and Erhard Hirt (guitar).

Track Listing: Air: 1. Brume 2. Miniature 1 3. Sous Pression 4. La révolte du colibri 5. Brut 6. Miniature 2 7. Quiétude 8. Le diable dans la cuisine 9. Air Brut

Personnel: Air: Jean-Luc Cappozzo (trumpet, flugelhorn, reeds) and Erwan Keravec (bagpipes, reed trumpet and half mezoued pipe)