August 21, 2011
New Logic for Old Saxophones
Creative Sources CS 106 CD
Live at the Total Music Meeting
Kadima Collective KCR 27
NotTwo MW 855-2
Live in London
Nofrills Music nfm-001
Extended reed techniques are now so widely used and solo saxophone CDs so readily available, that the fear and loathing with which such experiments were originally greeted may have finally dissipated – at least within the Improvised Music world. With the novelty factor now worn off, each session can be examined on its own merits. In effect discs such as these indicate that solo saxophone sets – even using the same instrument – can be as unlike as any CDs by different musicians.
Additionally, if there’s any doubt about the universal application of experimental reed techniques in solo settings these session quash that. Nearly every member of the saxophone family is represented here; plus the saxophonists hail from different parts of the world. Recorded at Berlin’s Total Music Meeting, Israeli reedist Ariel Shibolet, who has played with among others French bassist Joëlle Léandre, demonstrates his soprano saxophone prowess on a CD of the same title. Baltimore-based John Berndt, one of the organizers of that city’s High Zero Festival plays a soprano and an alto saxophone from the 1930s on his session. Sticking mostly to tenor saxophone, Blaise Siwula, a tireless organizer of New York improv sessions, offers a nine-track souvenir of a London gig. A member of the Hubbub quintet, Swiss native Bertrand Denzler’s eponymously titled CD for tenor saxophone was recorded in Paris; while British baritone saxophonist Simon Rose, part of the Badland trio, recorded his solo CD in Berlin playing a horn actually older than either of Berndt’s so-called old saxophones.
Dissecting the performances, what’s most notable is the division between players whose allegiance is to Free Jazz and those committed to Free Music or even starker Free Expression. With his guttural tones, snorts, slurs plus references to other tunes and Aylerian marches, Siwula is firmly in the Free Jazz camp. Subdividing his disc into tracks that could be saxophone part descriptions – “Filters”, “Signals” and “Airtube” – Denzler’s microtonal reed examination is so involved with Free Expression in contrast, that often the timbres produced don’t appear to have reed connections. Throbbing the valves and reed in both his antique models in such a way as to negate their tonal features, Berndt’s affiliation is with Free Music, although hints of melodies are sometime audible. It’s the same situation when Rose exposes the rough and ready, sometimes chalumeau and just as frequently altissimo features of his pumping baritone sax. As for Shibolet, his sometimes shill, strident strategy is frequently the result of circular breathing and other extended techniques, putting him firmly in the Free Music camp.
All of a piece, the Israeli soprano saxophonist’s three improvisations are separated by silences, perhaps more the result of breath control than pacing. Alongside the fortissimo squeaking tones and polyphonic growls produced, reed-biting hums and murmurs are sometimes also audible. That means when his lung are emptied to swell the saxophone textures to their maximum quivers, secondary tones made up of sound partials and extension are as audible as the initial tones. Shibolet’s output encompasses bright, laughing split tones as frequently as solid, pressurized masses of guttural circular breathing. While it may be fanciful to imagine that his spectrum of reed extrapolations includes faint Sephardic echoes, at its best his output of tongue flutters and steadily leaking respirations becomes a fascinating portrait of protoplasmic multiphonics.
On the other hand, some of Shibolet’s tonal extensions could be exercises in bel canto tessitura when measured against Bertrand Denzler’s evisceration of the tenor saxophone. Microscopically scrutinizing each saxophone part in turn, the reedist practically X-Rays the instrument’s inner workings, utilizing a barely there attack to filter air through the horn’s body tube and up and down scales. Besides hissing ghost notes in false registers, he strains timbres through the sax to illustrate more delicate lines yet also corkscrews contralto passages upwards or growls vacuum cleaner-like buzzes downwards. Austere and intermittent, the genuine richness of his reed tone is sporadically audible, but so too are roughened intensity vibratos, flat- line murmuring, ear-splitting squeaks and overblowing to bagpipe-chanter-like echoes. With an attack which shakes the instrument as the notes are exiting the bell, spiccato slurs and other configurations commonly arise and are sometimes repeated frequently enough to create distinct sub motifs. Not neglected when he plays are key pad percussion, chewing on the reed, lip pressures and tongue-stopped breaths.
Also committed to layered abstraction – though perhaps a little less than he imagines – is Berndt. The Baltimore native makes a point of noting that he’s playing a 1933 Buescher soprano saxophone and a 1935 Conn alto saxophone, but lacking an instrument obsession parallel to those of baseball card collectors may mean that the supposed superiority of these horns over others may be lost on non-reedits. Moreover Berndt’s method of improvising is such that differentiating the alto from the soprano is difficult enough; year of manufacture and brand notwithstanding.
Like Denzler, the American often hums alongside the tones he blows, but he’s certainly more vociferous than the Swiss reedist, frequently exposing massive swooping trills, altissimo cries and harsh reflux squawks. Staccatissimo key tapping and tongue slaps are also part of his repertoire. The majority of his intermezzos encompass intonation friction and quivering tessitura, but the odd phrase that escapes is as legato as any of Stan Getz’s.
More generic to his game plan are tracks such as “A Material Answer” and “Capsules”. The latter is built on exaggerated squeaks and split tones that appear to be hyper-extended and firmly squeezed to reveal additional tone extensions. As Berndt’s narrative bubbles and hockets, not only does he seem to be vibrating irregular timbres back into his throat, but creating additional sibilant cries by wrenching the mouthpiece from its goose neck. On “A Material Answer”, for instance, the sputters within his horn’s body tube suggest that sounds are being extracted from his horn’s innards and rubbed against the unyielding metal of the sax body. On full display his tonal creations alternate between those that could be produced by blowing a comb-and-tissue-paper kazoo to plain, un-vibrated air forced through the horn’s body tube.
Never mentioning its antique status, Rose uses the properties of his 1932 Conn baritone saxophone for parallel tone experimentation. Cannily he not only takes advantage of the mammoth horn’s expected blurry and subterranean brays, but also highlights the glottal multiphonics that result from playing widespread passages altissimo. Among the sounds swelling up and diminishing from his horn are a volley of percussive tongue slaps strident enough to resemble gunfire. Like Shibolet’s Sephardic tinge, and perhaps just as unconsciously, a faint Arabic insinuation creeps into Rose’s playing on “Crater Lake”, especially in his choice of substitute notes.
Tessitura slurs are more prominent elsewhere, as powerful thrusts against metal create multiphonic cries at higher and lower pitches. Rose’s flutter tonguing also doubles and triples as he stutters and sequences note patterns which arise and disappear in split seconds. Expressed in broken octaves, a tune such as the title track may include bagpipe-chanter-like swells, played in a more vociferous manner than Denzler, but which remain chromatic despite juddering slurs and contracted tongue slaps. Tracks like “Eel Feeler” in contrast bulge with crunching growls and stentorian reverberations that confirm the horn’s lower-depth power.
Still, all and all, the aleatoric “Boxhagener” is most illustrative of Rose’s strategy which echoes both Free Jazz and Free Music. An almost-earth-shaking interlude, propelled with inflated circular-breathed timbres, it appears as if the horn’s outside finish is being stripped to toughen the already bottomless snorts.
Free Jazz inferences mostly suggested by then other CDs are most apparent on Live in London. Frequently as guttural and unstructured as Rose is in his solos, Siwula also brings an understanding of (Free) Jazz’s heritage to his playing. Clustered among the falsetto screams and flutter tonguing from his horns are blue notes and out-and-out march time sequences whose clearest antecedent are those rhythmic tunes favored by Albert Ayler. Plus among the sped up and slowed down output that encompasses fortissimo vibrations, inner-tube growls, raunchy squeaks and ferocious reed bites are hints of melody. Some tune fragments resemble reconfigured Jazz standards; others could be mutant cousins of “Dixie”, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and other Americana. No matter how staccato, cacophonous or segmented Siwula’s lines are, perhaps because of the presence of an audience, an exposition and a finale is present in each piece. As speedy as any tempo gets or as exaggerated as any reed experimentation turns, an underlying harmonic core cements each tune to a fundamental linear structure.
Far away from the taint of novelty, these advanced solo saxophone adventures can be appreciated for the way in which each one of these reedist has made an individual and personalized statement with his horn.
Track Listing: Tenor: 1. Filters 2. Signals 3. Airtube
Personnel: Tenor: Bertrand Denzler (tenor saxophone)
Track Listing: London: 1. Stutter’s Waltz 2. On The Plains Of Brooklyn 3. Transparent Dialogue 4. Old Friends 5. Time One Down 6. Slide Line* 7. Foregone Ballad No. 1 8. Ryan’s Shuffle 9. Times Up+
Personnel: London: Blaise Siwula (tenor saxophone and clarinet*) and Alan Wilkinson (baritone saxophone)+
Track Listing: Logic: 1. A slow descent into the flower 2. Phantasm 3. Melancholy at the Base of the Volcano (for Gianni Gebbia) 4. Manifold 5. We are Not Ourselves 6. The Alloy of Summer and Mind 7. All the Forgotten Conversations 8. A Material Answer (for Christine Sehnaoui-Abdelnour) 9. The Levels 10. Specifics 11. The Long Road from Doha to Barsoom 12. Noncontinuum 13. Capsules (for Anthony Braxton) 14. Wheels made of water 15. Roiling Ascent
Personnel: Logic: John Berndt (1933 Buescher soprano and 1935 Conn alto saxophones)
Track Listing: Total: 1. Live at the Total Music Meeting 1 2. Live at the Total Music Meeting 2 3. Live at the Total Music Meeting 3 4. Live at the Total Music Meeting 4l
Personnel: Total: Ariel Shibolet (soprano saxophone)
Track Listing: Schmetterling: 1. Off World 2. Panopticon 3. Wolf Street 4. South on Squirrel 5. Eel Feeler 6. Boxhagener 7. Winterfelt 8. Spielen 9. Like Tears in Rain 10. Crater Lake 11. Schmetterling 12.Pike Market 13. Hinter mir 14. At 14th
Personnel: Schmetterling: Simon Rose (baritone saxophone)