April 13, 2011
The Remote Viewers
To The North
Alesandro Sacha Caiani
Silta Records SR0904
Blending a saxophone choir plus a rhythm section has been a popular method of producing multiphonic textures ever since the Swing Era. Extending the interaction to encompass atonality and polyphony resulted when bands such as the World Saxophone Quartet and ROVA worked with rhythm sections. Effecto Ludico and To the North are notable examples of European bands adapting and altering the style. Main mover in both ensembles is a tenor saxophonist, Milan-based Alesandro Sacha Caiani on Effecto Ludico and London’s David Petts on To The North. However the end results contain as many differences as similarities.
Caiani, who has done everything from working with American multi-reedman Sabir Mateen to writing for dance companies, has put together a suite of 10 compositions, designed to showcase the talents of his band. Most of its members are leaders on their own, having worked in situations ranging from adaptations of the sound-painting concept of live conduction (tenor and soprano saxophonist Biagio Coppa) to membership in ensembles such as the Italian Instabile Orchestra, or those led by pianist Uri Caine or drummer Zeno di Rossi (alto saxophonist and bass clarinettist Achille Succci). Furthermore, novel intonations are added to the tracks by sound designer Xabier Iriondo, who manipulates a shahi baaja or electrified Indian zither, fitted with typewriter keys to create pitch variations; and a mahai metak, which is a multi-string electric invention complete with control knobs and coiled pick up.
Veteran of Punk-Jazz aggregations such as B Shops for the Poor, Petts over the years has expanded and modified the initial all-saxophones Remote Viewers – always with his B Shops associate Adrian Northover along playing soprano saxophone – to now include one of British Improv’s most accomplished rhythm sections: bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders. Unlike Effecto Ludico, which flirts with sonic portraiture à la Ellington, To The North is more of a group effort, with fewer solos. Made up of seven asides and intermezzos the CD’s distinctive strengths are fully expressed by the ensemble itself, which also includes saxophonists Sue Lynch and Caroline Kraabel – the latter, like Edwards and Northover, a stalwart of the London Improvisers Orchestra – with Sanders and Rosa Lynch-Northover on marimba providing the unusual percussive textures, a variant of what Iriondo and percussionist Cristiano Calcagnile create on the other CD.
As necessary for group structure as the other players, bassist Silvia Bolognesi’s prowess on Effecto Ludico helps define the extended “On The Beat”, nominally a saxophone showcase, in addition to personalizing “Silvia”, a Succi composition named for the bull fiddler. On that track, her thumps, plucks, stops and slaps delineate the portrait which also includes a meandering tenor saxophone line plus hissing breaths and vibrating oscillations from the mahai metak. Later on, the drummer’s rolls and drags plus near-onomatopoeic bass clarinet runs frames Caini’s tough reed biting and bell-muting.
The tripartite “On The Beat” extrapolates cascading woodwind lines into a near-rondo, as tones are harmonically distributed among a snorting tenor saxophone ostinato and altissimo squeaks and peeps from the other horns. This lasts until the second section when Bolognesi’s double-stopping resonations presage bluesy low-pitched tenor trills and contrapuntal, blended horns spetrofluctuation. Resolution happens at an accelerated pace in the third part, as electronically shaped curves and distorted bleeps contrast with the thickened pedal-point.
Not to be outdone, Iriondo distinguishes himself on both his unusual instruments. At one point the shaahi baaja’s distinctive twangs are matched with stacked and vibrating reed tones; at another shimmering, sharply outlined flanges from the mahai metak meet Bolognesi’s scrubbed strings and Caini’s screechy altissimo. The mahai metak’s distinctive motor-driven pulse also complements Calcagnile’s rim shots and maracas shakes. After an episode of tonal hide-and-seek, the theme on the concluding “A Song” bounces between near-clichéd Italian lyricism and squealing staccato time-shifts until the horn-heavy band defines itself with a sandwich of stacked reed timbres. Spiky yet blended, each saxophonist’s lick is angled so it complements the others’.
A similar expression of reed multiphonics is expressed on To The North with a band of four, rather than three woodwind players. Taken to its logical conclusion on a piece such as “The Memorial”, the stretched saxophone timbres accelerate to a crescendo of polyphonic reed smears and split tones. Associated accompaniment takes the form of drum pops, shakes and flams propelled by body English plus atonal bell clangs.
Earlier, with the echoes of rock beats and the hint of processed field recordings poking out among concentrated reed harmonies, distinctive solos arise more readily from Edwards’ walking or pressurized twangs and Sanders’ click-clacking drum beasts than from individual horn players. Only occasionally does a chorus of squeaky, diaphragm-vibrated timbres from Northover, some jagged R&B vamps from Petts, or slick, spittle-encrusted vibrations from Kraabel assert themselves.
The concentrated reed harmonies on this CD are sympathetically arranged so that each timbral tincture is apparent, with little loss of spontaneity. Caiani’s compositions and arrangements are a bit looser. Taken on their merits nonetheless, each ensemble has created a notable multi-woodwind-and rhythm document.
Track Listing: North: 1. Journey to the Border 2. The Lure of Heresy 3. Saturation Bombing 4. All the Conspirators 5. The High Place 6. To the North 7. The Memorial
Personnel: North: Adrian Northover (soprano saxophone); David Petts and Sue Lynch (tenor saxophones); Caroline Kraabel (alto and baritone saxophones); John Edwards (bass); Mark Sanders (drums) and Rosa Lynch-Northover (marimba)
Track Listing: Effecto: 1. Trio Starting 2. Duo Starting 3. A Storm 4. On the Beat 5. Achille 6. Biagio 7. Silvia 8. C.S.A. 9. X.B. 10. A Song
Personnel: Effecto: Achille Succi (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Alessandro Sacha Caiani (tenor saxophone); Biagio Coppa (tenor and soprano saxophones); Xabier Iriondo (mahai metak and shaahi baaja); Silvia Bolognesi (bass) and Cristiano Calcagnile (drums and percussion)