Red Note 15

Another one of those only-in-Europe ensembles which ingeniously intermingles strands of chamber music, pop and punk currents within an overlay of improvisation, Sol6 calls on talents from four countries and varied ages for this buoyant session.

Chief instigators of this CD, recorded live at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, are Luc Ex from the Netherlands and British pianist/vocalist Veryan Weston. A founding member of punk group The Ex, since leaving that band, Ex has devoted his time to quirky improv groups such as 4Walls with Weston and British vocalist Phil Minton. Weston of course, is a veteran of the London improv scene, where he works in various configurations, including one with cellist Hannah Marshall, who is also in Sol6. Marshall, who usually plays in improv setting with people like drummer Steve Noble, was also on an album by pop band Polar Bear. So was violist Mandy Drummond, another Sol6er, who usually divides her time between accompanying pop bands and classical music. German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock now lives in New York where she performs with people like drummer Tom Rainey; while Australian drummer Tony Buck, a long-time Berlin resident, is best-known for his membership in The Necks.

A curious sort of parallelism is evident as the band moves through the CD’s 17-song program. Nearly every track is doubled by another, whether it’s an extension of developed tonal ideas continued in variations on the subsequent track; or whether the title and/or ideas expressed by the initial tune are mirrored by another song. An obvious example of this is “Uncaged” and “The Cage”, which follow one another. The former features a sophisticated musical version of you-can’t-catch-me, mixing arco smears and doubled pizzicato plucks from the cellist with plinking note-clusters and andante chording from the pianist, and climaxing with a vocal rendition of Charles Ives’ “The Cage” from Marshall. More affecting on its own is Weston’s saucy rendition – in French – of Erik Satie’s “Chanson Hollandaise”, which creates a hitherto unknown link between Jacques Brel-like chansonnier messages and discordant tone-row impulses from the string players and the saxophonist.

More notable still are the purely instrumental tracks, where the sextet melds suggestions of seemingly antithetical sounds. “Brain Boiling Obvious 3” for instance, mixes Buck’s calm, wire-brush propelled shuffle beat with rapid arpeggios from Weston, country & western-like twangs from Ex and sul tasto runs from Marshall. Following some moderato breaths from Laubrock, the formerly disconnected textures and irregular strokes meld without surrendering individual sonic identities.

Elsewhere, “Autistic African Samba”, a joint Weston-Ex composition, balances the legato and the discordant. As chord and melody fragments from the pianist flash by, a pseudo rock blues from the bassist and flutter-tongued melisma from the saxophonist unite on top of a melodic viola-cello interface, with the final scrubbed vibrations connecting by the finale. “Leg Room in the 1st Class” on the other hand could be a hitherto undiscovered duet between Cecil Taylor and Günter “Baby” Sommer. With Buck using a range of spectacular effects including extended press rolls, intermittent flams and multi-tempo ruffs and drags, Weston utilizes his playing skills to the fullest in this broken octave face off. Continuously involved with contrasting dynamics, he moves from player-piano styled staccato to sliding portamento, to high frequency single note slaps, until all are gathered into connective patterns.

Despite these achievements some of the egregious example of pop music – such as Drummond warbling Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You” – could nonetheless be excised without much harm to the program. Overall though, Sol6 has created a CD which should appeal to advanced popsters as well as hard-core improvisers.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Some Tings Must Stay 2. And the World Might Bb After All 3. Uncaged 4. The Cage 5. Miniature 1 6. Brain Boiling Obvious 1 7. Chanson Hollandaise 8. Leg Room in the 1st Class 9. Amputation in Economy 10. Nood 11. Close to You 12. Brain Boiling Obvious 2 13. Sick Eagle 14. Autistic African Samba 15. Brain Boiling Obvious 3 16. Insecurity 17. Miniature 2

Personnel: Ingrid Laubrock (soprano and tenor saxophones and voice); Mandy Drummond (viola and voice); Hannah Marshall (cello and voice); Veryan Weston (piano and voice); Luc Ex (bass) and Tony Buck (drums)