Nurnichtnur Berslaton 110 03 08

Classic, but certainly not classical chamber music, this seven-part suite is all of a part, depending on the microtonal blending of three strings and two woodwinds. Recital-friendly, the playing during these improvisational intermezzos is still spiky enough to jar complacent concertgoers and capricious enough to be appreciated by active seekers of the new.

All of the players are old hands at negotiating a musical path that not only captures the whole tones, but also the dissonant pulses that would otherwise fall between the cracks. For instance Wiesbaden-based bassist Ulrich Phillipp, flautist Eiko Yamada from Heidelberg, plus guitarist Nicolas Desmarchelier from Brittany and clarinetist Xavier Charles from Lorraine are all part of the Köln-based Ensemble X, while Phillipp and violinist Burkhard Schlothauer are also members of the avant-classical mini-orchestra Zeitkratzer.

Recorded live at a concert in Wiesbaden by Ulrich Böttcher, who contributes his electronics to ensembles in that city and with Ensemble X, the collective program is atmospheric without being ambient and subtle without being static. Polyphonic and polyrhythmic, the parallel string and horns structures are sympathetically contrasted so they evolve – individually or in groups – without having to rely on harmonic interaction.

Throughout scrubbed and sanded string timbres make common cause with sharply angled flute peeps and lightly pressurized rolled tongue actions from the clarinetist. Continuously evolving in andante or allegro pulses, pauses and accelerations also mark measurers for recurrent splayed and strident guitar strokes, pedal-point-pitched bowing from the bassist and violin runs that are distanced, sometimes monotone and habitually sul ponticello. Overall the result is that of flattened microtonalism; skewed chamber inventions that skirt chiaroscuro without becoming monochrome.

Flashes of color arise from contrapuntal respites in the linear narrative. Charles, for example, overblows up into false-registers or growls striated timbres from his clarinet; the peeping split tones from Yamada’s flute sometimes squeak to aviary augmentations; Desmarchelier recoils twangs and licks from his classical guitar; and Phillipp’s bass strokes can be clunky and woody or resonate with thumping finality to end a sequence or make a point.

With its unusual – for so-called classical music – instrumental grouping, the quintet is self contained as an atypical and singular chamber ensemble. This CD can be appreciated by anyone with an open mind to cerebral and provocative small group sounds.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 6:10 2. 10:00 3. 6:09 4. 4:13 5. 6:56 6. 13:01 7. 5:41

Personnel: Xavier Charles (clarinet); Eiko Yamada (flute); Burkhard Schlothauer (violin); Nicolas Desmarchelier (guitar) and Ulrich Phillipp (bass)