June 15, 2011
Lucas Niggli Big Zoom
Intakt CD 174
Leo Records CD LR 586
Probably the most interesting younger trombonist in Europe, who is affiliated neither with out-and-out Free Music or the Mainstream, is German-born Nils Wogram. Like most contemporary players he leads his own ensembles while lending his inventiveness to a variety of other groups. Paradoxically though, while his own CDs lean towards the populist, the challenge of sidemen duties often brings out a more adventurous side, as these CDs demonstrate.
Wogram has a long history of collaboration with Russian-American pianist and Köln-resident Simon Nabatov, in duo and in other bands. Aptly titled, Roundup is particularly notable since the two’s playing partners are gathered from disparate places. They include Berlin-based tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, who often works with tubaist Carl-Ludwig Hübsch; Amsterdam-based cellist Ernst Reijseger, a former member of the ICP Orchestra; and New York drummer Tom Rainey, who works with seemingly every second Jazzer on both sides of the Atlantic.
More atonally sophisticated still is the newest generation of Uster, Switzerland-based percussionist Lucas Niggli’s Big Zoom band. Joining the holdovers, who include Wogram and Swiss guitarist Philipp Schaufelberger, who often plays with reedist Tommy Meier, are two veterans, American New Music flautist Anne La Berge and British bassist Barry Guy, who has been involved with advanced sound ensembles since the late 1960s. The invented word in the title refers to the overlapping polyrhythms, polymetrics and polytones used by the band, most definitely related to the multiphonic rhythms the percussionist brings to each piece.
Cameroon-born Niggli has a particular affinity for African percussion, and the four tracks are alive with rhythms and timbres that could come from the berimbau, batà or djembe drums. But this is no World Music session; the drummer leaves that concept for his other more percussion-dedicated projects. Instead his polyrhythmic expression is deployed as part of more substantial creations – and blends. While rotating among his regular kit and extra percussion, the drummer works with different musicians in turn. Shuffles and drags make room for Schaufelberger’s chiming, almost country & western approach, for instance, while Africanized percussion patterns back Wogram’s high-pitched triplets that are also matched with decorative flute flutters. Every participant has a similar role. Guy’s ringing bass lines for example, presage a moderate, andante trombone solo, which is also backed by the guitarist’s spidery fills.
Each of the musicians bring his or her particular skills to Niggli’s compositions which often seem to meld Sun Ra’s mysticism, Sun records’ beats and Sonny Rollins’ virtuosity in equal measures. The highlights include Le Berge’s shrilling multiphonics or breathy flutters; Guy’s solid, unshowy pacing; and Schaufelberger’s staccato strumming or Rock-styled distortion. Besides the drummer however, it’s the trombonist who makes the strongest impression. From shrill capillary blats to back-of-throat growls his trombone mastery is highlighted.
It’s a somewhat similar situation on Roundup, with Nabatov serving as Wogram’s second. In contrast to Big Zoom’s out-and-out timbre dabbling and deconstruction, the seven Nabatov compositions contain the sort of voicing that could come from a, 21st Century version of pianist George Shearing’s classic quintet. A fine example of this appears on the balladic “Stuck For Good”. Here a gentle waterfall of notes from the pianist is harmonized alongside low-pitched trombone breaths and sul tasto swells from the cellist. Redefined as a lyrical swinger, the tune concludes with carefully measured piano key clips, tongue flutters from Wogram, and martial ratamacues from Rainey.
While the tunes on Roundup are more tonal than the dissonant romps on Polisation, there are sections when Nabatov allows everyone to play more freely. For instance, space is made for Schubert’s reed puffs and thick-grained slurps, Reijseger’s kinetic syncopation and Nabatov’s geometrical keyboard thumps. The performance is also conventional enough to allow for solo showcases. “Low Budget”, for instance is a percussion intermezzo, while “Desfile” is given over to Wogram’s slide explorations.
On the former, Rainey uses subtly and taste to paint a percussion picture with colored with cymbal splashes plus bounces, ruffs, strokes and pats on bass drum, snares and toms. A later variation has him keeping time with rim shots as Nabatov doubles the tempo with fractured glissandi. Analogous keyboard dynamics which take on player-piano-like echoes are used effectively on “Desfile”. So are staccato cello runs and hand drumming plus cymbal clanks from Rainey. But it’s Wogram’s textural pinpointing which gets the best work-out here. Alternating between gutbucket blasts and crying trills he defines the theme in such a way that it almost resembles a cabaletta. Subsequent brass guffaws lead to a dancing near-African line, with the cellist’s string plucking taking on lead-guitar reverb, while Rainey’s and Nabatov’s responses match Reijseger’s in velocity and intensity. Overall though the piece resembles an exercise in exotica rather than one with the African echoes Niggli prefers.
That pronounced difference is key, since these examples of high-class Euroimprov show off Wogram’s burgeoning skills, but within different, yet simpatico contexts.
Track Listing: Roundup: 1. Sunrise, Twice 2. Carrier Ladder 3. Stuck For Good 4. Now What 5. Low Budget 6. Desfile 7. No Doubt
Personnel: Roundup: Nils Wogram (trombone); Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone); Simon Nabatov (piano); Ernst Reijseger (cello) and Tom Rainey (drums)
Track Listing: Polisation: 1. Polisation I 2. Polisation III 3. Nirvana 4. Polisation I
Personnel: Polisation: Nils Wogram (trombone and melodic); Anne La Berge (flutes and electronics); Philipp Schaufelberger (guitar); Barry Guy (bass) and Lucas Niggli (drums and percussion)