Roy/Courtois/Tchamitchian

Amarco
Émouvance émv 1032

Charlotte Hug & Fred Lonberg-Holm

Fine Extensions (2009)

Emanem 5012

Alternative approaches to intermixing string improvisations are exhibited on these CDs. While American cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Swiss violist Charlotte Hug expose the sonic modifications within pure improvisation, the instant compositions showcased by the French trio of violist Guillaume Roy, cellist Vincent Courtois and bassist Claude Tchamitchian have a strong relationship to notated chamber music.

Methodically this could be expected since each Gallic player is also involved in so-called legit sounds. Roy, for instance, creates and plays theatre and contemporary music as well as improvising with the likes of trumpeter Jean Luc Cappozzo and drummer Edward Perraud; conservatory-trained Courtois is associated with World Music ensembles as well as extended work in the groups of clarinetist Louis Sclavis and trombonist Yves Robert. Tchamitchian’s interest in ethnic and notated music is as strong as his skill in playing Jazz-Improv with stylists such as pianist Eric Watson and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

Then again, Hug’s legit side is also suitably extensive when it comes to theatre, electronic and New music situations; although she’s often in the company of improvisers ranging from guitarist Elliott Sharp to drummer Ingar Zach. It’s Lonberg-Holm who is most professionally unconventional, having spent more time with experimental Jazz improvisers such as saxophonist Ken Vandermark then in other situations. But nevertheless, the musicians’ collective backgrounds don’t make Fine Extensions a so-called Jazz recording any more than Amarco could be a so-called Classical CD.

Instead the Hug and Lonberg-Holm duo is committed to exploring the sound textures that can be contrasted or coordinated from two sets of four strings stroked, sawed, strained, squeaked and shrilled. And they do so on two extended (over 20 minutes each) and one miniature piece captured at a Zürich performance space. Although there are no electronic extensions or overdubs used, the interaction is sporadically broken up by Hug’s vocalizing which encompasses faux lyric soprano stresses as well as mountaineering yelps and yodels. Not to be outdone, the cellist’s game plan includes reverberating guitar-like strums and sul tasto bow whacks that apparently smack sections of the instrument’s wooden finish as well as its taut strings. Abrasive, agitato and super-fast, glissandi are as apt to result in a sequence of broken-octave extensions as consecutive string vibrations arise from both. Triple-stopping, pinpointed tweeks creates relentless interludes which squeak with bird-like whistles, flying staccato plus any number of resonating thumps and pedal point strokes from the transatlantic duo.

“Part Two” is the climatic section here, where an invention involving sweeping chords and contrasting pizzicato plucks open the interface still further. Besides Lonberg-Holm’s continuous spiccato runs, the cellist also scrubs his strings in such a discordant fashion that it sounds as if the instrument’s finish is being gradually flayed and dulled. For her part, the violist concocts a legato intermezzo where at points it seems as if she’s replicating a chamber music etude. At another juncture the two together produce such an agitated collection of twangs, plucks and frails that it suggests that an Appalachian banjo-and-fiddle duo had somehow been introduced to a collection of psychedelic substances.

More disciplined, the Amarco trio’s program is made up of 11 divertissements ranging in length from slightly more than 1½ minutes to a little under 7½ minutes, with the sounds polyphonic yet orderly. Throughout, the higher-pitched strings decorate the narratives with quivering glissandi while the bassist walks comfortably, maintaining the linearity of most pieces. With a collection of wallowing low pitches and stark arpeggios available, most tracks are built on subtle tone layering.

On “Question d’avenir” for instance – which admittedly sounds more traditional than futuristic – the sweeping cello and double bass lines exposition soon slides into a sequence of near-ecclesiastical solemnity. Gorgeously lyrical, with each instrument’s tone individually audible, the tune is further enlivened when Roy adds spiky, double-stopped harmonies which develop into a subtle, near-Hungarian rhapsody. This delicacy can also be mixed with strength as “Time to change” demonstrates. Here Courtois’ intervallic cello repetitions lead to an intermezzo of surprising delicacy, finally interrupted by rippling spiccato lines from all three. As Tchamitchian strikes his strings sul tasto, the others work up to a crescendo of splayed notes.

Appending octave leaps, guitar-like string plucks and pan-tonal intersections, the trio always moves forward. Meanwhile appropriate measures of staccato string scrubbing and firmly angled bow movements are added to the interface producing rubato, buzzing timbres. While there are echoes of hoedown rhythms, ingeniously mixed with near-classical rondos, the improvisations never careen out of control. Even the cellist’s atonal snaps and stops on the concluding “Le soufflé d’ivresse” are related to invention rather than inebriation. Should his multiphonic variations stagger the tempo, then firmly repeated sul tasto scrubbing from the three, tutti, directs the narrative to an even plane, with the bassist’s stentorian pluck providing a conclusive finality.

Buttoned down or boisterous, each CD showcases memorable, tactile and cohesive improvisational flights from committed string specialists.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Extensions: 1. Part One 2. Part Two 3. Part Three

Personnel: Extensions: Charlotte Hug (viola and voice) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello)

Track Listing: Amarco: 1. Les palais oubliés 2. Amarco 3. Champ contra champ 4. Play ground 5. Petite conversation entre amis 6. Question d’avenir 7. Tactilographie 8. Wild town 9. Time to change 10. Lune objective 11. Le soufflé d’ivresse

Personnel: Amarco: Guillaume Roy (viola); Vincent Courtois (cello) and Claude Tchamitchian (bass)