Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher

Quartet
BBBCD 12 & 13

How can a trio be a quartet? That Dadaist query is more serious than is initially evident. For adding another musician to a long-established triangular entity, doesn’t necessarily result in a quartet sound if the thought processes don’t mesh. However Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher here craftily avoids the phenomenon of merely creating music for three plus one. Using pieces from pianist Michel Braam’s “Q Book” as a basis, the three integrate guests’ sounds into their longstanding connection.

With six guests, of course, some of the quartet – and truth in packaging alert, one quintet – tracks work better than the others, depending on the tempo and intensity of the interaction. Interestingly enough, a divide affects two members of the trio as well. When the extra participants’ improvising burrow deep into rough and ragged atonalism, the scrubs, swabs and pulses created by veteran bassist Wilbert de Joode predominate. But when the interaction calls for more cohesive and harmonic patterning, the piano’s traditional role prevails, as Braam literally plays along. Drummer Michael Vatcher sticks to his accompanist role in either case.

American-in-Amsterdam saxophonist/clarinetist Michael Moore is the most frequent guest here, with four appearances. A couple seem little more than capriccios, with the reedist’s coloratura obbligatos and melodic trilling answered by low-frequency chording from the pianist, unhurried bowed bass lines and subtle drags from the drummer. Although there are glimpses of splayed reed bites from Moore and even some string scrubbing from de Joode at those times, other narratives are more expansive.

“Q14” for instance, while appearing to be built on a maddeningly familiar yet unspecified melody the performance is tauter and more abrasive. Perhaps it’s because Moore introduces a yearning alto saxophone line which is met by metronomic piano pulsing, displaying substitute chords to modify the saxophonist’s diatonic squeaks and flutters. More impressive still is “Q23”, which highlights genuine four-person blending. Outputting a fluid, almost Benny Goodmanish tone, Moore comfortably trades fours with Vatcher’s flams and pops, de Joode’s thumps and plucks and Braam’s kinetic runs. The double-counterpoint finale is constructed out of reed trilling and bass slaps.

LOOS mainman, tenor and soprano saxophonist Peter van Bergen brings out a completely different side of the trio in his chapters of the Q book. When he widen the vibrato of his thin tone to volley atonal cries on “Q01”, the pianist methodically strums piano keys and pedal pumps, leaving enough space for the bassist’s sul tasto and col legno pitch-sliding. “Q03”, with van Bergen displaying soprano split tones and glossolalia, first draws out staccato voicing from Braam, then settles the entire combo into an R&B-styled backbeat. Together reed flattement and harsh ruffs from the drummer build up the exposition’s intensity as it unrolls.

A similar heavy beat is present on a different version of “Q01” via accelerating, high frequency piano overtones, drum whaps, bass thumps and muted plunger cries from American Taylor Ho Bynum’s trumpbone. Eventually, the brass man’s braying escalates to fire engine-like squeals as Braam’s patterning keeps the narrative moving.

British saxophonist/bagpiper Paul Dunmall on “Q41” introduces enough dynamic energy with his two horns to almost need no additional help. First his soprano undulates and snakes, and then his chanter and bellows vibrate multiphonic yelps that deepen his initial tone measures. It’s up to de Joode to use the skills he utilizes playing with saxophonists as different as Frank Gratkowski or Ken Vandermark to keep the program from running off the rails. High-pitched buzzes and scrubs, plus quivering string smacks do the trick.

Luckily Braam’s purposeful key flailing and Vatcher’s swelling ruffs are both available on “Q51”, when Swedish baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson shows up to violently scream and snort. Canadian clarinetist François Houle vibrates andante split tones as well. But it takes concentrated interface from the trio members to mute the pressurized reed work and push it towards a final moderato variant characterized by strummed pulses from Braam and quiet paradiddles from Vatcher.

Quartet also includes five examples of Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher’s alternately rhythmic and lyrical harmonies. But anyone familiar with the trio members already knows how well they work together. The challenge here is to use the Braam-composed material as jumping off points for diverse improvisational strategies from each guest. That they are able to direct each approach into a unified whole without compromising the clear trio sound is a tribute to their skills and adaptability.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD 1: Q16* 2. Q02 3. Q18 4. Q14* 5. Q51^ 6. Q27+ 7. Q01+ 8. Q01 CD2: 1.Q02* 2. Q23* 3. Q03# 4. Q01# 5. Q17 6. Q03 7.Q08 8. Q41&

Personnel: Michiel Braam (piano); Wilbert de Joode (bass) and Michael Vatcher (drums) plus Taylor Ho Bynum+ (cornet or trombone); Michael Moore* (clarinet, bass clarinet or alto saxophone); Peter van Bergen# (soprano or tenor saxophone); Paul Dunmall& (soprano saxophone and bagpipes); and François Houle^ (clarinet) and Mats Gustafson^ (baritone saxophone)