Denley/Lauzier/Martel/Myhr/Normand

Transition de Phase
Tour de Bras TDB9005cd

Delius/Pellegrino/Giust/Thomas/Hennan

Three Nights in Berlin

Setola di Maiale 1330

Without borders is more than a slogan when it comes to free music, a sentiment proven by these exceptional improvisations. Recorded live, both of these CDs demonstrate the empathy exploratory musicians from different countries possess.

Resulting from the annual festival of experimental music held in Rimouski, Quebec, located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River about 500 kilometres from Montreal, Transition de Phase is made up of three extended improvisations by five out-of-town visitors and local electric bassist/concert organizer Éric Normand. Participants were two Montrealers, saxophonist and clarinettist Philippe Lauzier and violist and electronic manipulator Pierre-Yves Martel, who frequently work together and are often in Europe, plus participants from farther away – Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr and Australian reedist Jim Denley.

By happenstance Three Nights in Berlin also features an Australian – bassist Clayton Thomas – and a guitarist, Mikaele Pellegrino. Further compounding the small-world theory, Thomas, now a Berliner, seems to be in every second group in that city, but he often played with Denley down under. Also now a Berlin resident, Rome-born guitarist Mikaele Pellegrino works with other sound explorers such as drummer Michael Vorfeld, as well as Californian-in-Berlin reedist Chris Heenan, who also plays on this CD. Also present on all tracks is saxophonist/clarinettist Tobias Delius, the British-born member of Amsterdam’s ICP Orchestra, who now makes Berlin his home. The visitor in this case is experienced Pordenone, Italy-based, Swiss-born percussionist Stefano Giust, who has played with other reedists such as Carlo Actis Dato and Gianni Gebbia.

Appropriately enough the Berlin improvisations differ on each night, depending on the personnel. No matter which, however, Giust – who in the early 1990s co-founded the Setola di Maiale independent musicians’ network – and his confreres have such command of the material that each of the tunes seems to zip by. Interestingly enough as well, each of the performances can be defined as Free Jazz, as opposed to the three “Phases” on the other CD which are definitely Free Music.

“As You”, one of the trio intermezzos that divides the quartet performances, is outstandingly fascinating though, since on it Giust, Delius and Pellegrino cleave closest to Free Music with some obeisance to more mainstream sounds. Those echoes appear in the deep-dish Ben Webster-like blowing from the tenor saxophonist and a later jaunty line that could be “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Meantime the guitarist’s irregular downwards strokes are spelled by country music-like twangs and stops; while the drummer keeps up a martial snare pattern. Elsewhere during the track however, Giust exposes rattles, rim shots, pitter-patters and cymbal clatters; as Pellegrino’s squeaky guitar slides and percussive rasgueado mirror in double counterpoint Delius’ reed bites, sibilant extensions and crying guttural smears.

While the guitarist and drummer revert to rhythm section accompanist roles on the Heenan quartet tracks, the sounds are still far from the standard two-saxophone battles. Atop Giust’s raps and ruffs and Pellegrino’s speedy picking, the two saxes honk and growl staccato lines, eventually dividing the reed lines between the tenor saxophonist’s double-tongued buzz and similar drones from Hennan’s alto sax. Gravitas is more apparent when the horn men bring out their doubles: pedal-point bass clarinet snorts from Hennan and slinky, triple-tongued variations from Delius’ straight clarinet. Paced exquisitely, the bonding climax occurs as Giust’s mallet-driven pumps link Delius’ reflux flutters and Hennan’s spreading ostinato.

Thomas’ wood-rending slides and string crunches produce completely different overtones when he becomes the fourth partner. That’s because guitar, bass and drums together constitute a prototypical Jazz rhythm section. “Zoo Off”, for instance, is built on the bassist stretching his strings ever tighter, while Pellegrino strums note clusters and Delius unleashes a series of tongue smears, slaps and irregular vibrations. Additionally Giust’s opposite sticking on cymbals, plus busy drags and rebounds replicate the abrasions of electronic oscillations as “City Thought” becomes more conceptual. Most impressive is the unique contrast between Delius’ legato clarinet vibrato, mirrored by the guitarist’s classical guitar licks, and a contrasting invention as Thomas’ bowed bass line, which doubles the tenor saxophonist’s diaphragm-pitched smears and tongue flutters.

Jazz echoes are more distant, while electro-acoustic interface is more obvious due to preparations, plug-ins and objects on Transition de Phase. Yet with all five musicians present on all three tracks, fewer phase transitions occur than on the Berlin-recorded CD. Polyphonic textures encompassing percussive rustling, reed burbles, string spiccato, intermittent metal pops, chromatic hand bell-like chiming and organ-like oscillations flap throughout earlier tracks as a prelude to the more than 26½-minute final improvisation.

During this variant, instrumental strategies are tried out, expanded upon and sometimes abandoned. The aural fascination lies with the reality that many of these inventions are taking place simultaneously. While, for instance, Normand and Myhr use slurred fingering and irregular string frails, pedal-point reed snorts from Lauzier’s bass clarinet and Denley’s prepared alto saxophone spetrofluctuation mirror or operate in contrast to one another’s timbres. Meanwhile objects are rattled and popped, strings thumped, tubular bells rung and metal surfaces screeched abrasively. Friction accelerates by the improvisation’s final measures as harp-like clattering from the guitar, ragged false fingering and pitch vibrato from the horns and object-striking object with the force of a stick against a guiro, are all amplified by electronic impulses. Ultimately a finale is attained from Normand’s swift vibe-like resonations on his strings, and as the reed tongue-stops and honks cease.

More than sessions where visiting musical firemen play alongside other, usually local players, both these CDs present intuitive sound melding with equally committed improvisers on all sides.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Transition: 1. Phase 1 2. Phase 2 3. Phase 3

Personnel: Transition: Philippe Lauzier (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet) Jim Denley (alto saxophone and flute); Pierre-Yves Martel (treble viol and electronics); Kim Myhr (acoustic guitar and objects) and Éric Normand (electric bass)

Track Listing: Three: 1. Zoo Off+ 2. City Thought+ 3. Living Floors+ 4. As You 5. Was A Thing 6. Isn’t* 7. Touch*

Personnel: Three: Chris Heenan (alto saxophone and contrabass clarinet)*; Tobias Delius (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Mikaele Pellegrino (classical and electric guitars); Clayton Thomas (bass)+ and Stefano Giust (drums, cymbals and objects)