Silke Eberhard Trio

What a Beauty Being
Jazz Werkstatt JW 103

Jaruzelski’s Dream

Jazz Gawronski

Clean Feed CF 211CD

Just like every Jazz saxophonist of the last century seemingly had to record a date backed only by a piano trio, so an improvising saxist of the 21st apparently must be challenged in a trio setting featuring just bass and drums. But in the same way that a reedist’s role has evolved over the years, so has a rhythm section’s function. For these rites of passage to truly impress, a cohesive response from each trio member is a necessity.

Silke Eberhard of Berlin and Piero Bittolo Bon of Venice are both youngish alto saxophonists showcasing on these CDs 12 compositions recorded in partnership with top-flight bassists and drummers. Unfortunately, while the sardonically named Jaruzelski’s Dream is an assertive program, a patina of caution permeates What a Beauty Being. Each tune – in the main composed by Eberhard – is well played, with a fine finish and glossy sheen. But somehow the saxophonist, justly praised for duo work with pianist Aki Takase and her all-horns Eric Dolphy project, appears uncharacteristically reticent. It’s as if she’s a method actor who hasn’t yet come to terms with her starring role in these playlets.

Bittolo Bon on the other hand is a confident and rule-breaking thespian who seizes the initiative here. With every character actor’s trick and shtick available to them, his associates, drummer Francesco Cusa and bassist Stefano Senni, also make these tunes bristle with drama and dynamism. Comparing the two CDs is like matching a neo-realist film with a mannered, slightly fussy period piece.

Eberhard may have felt that a linear and chromatic approach to most of the material was an acceptable game plan, but listlessness and sameness creep in as well. Drummer Kay Lübke, who has recorded with saxophonist Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky contributes pitter-patter, pops and rolls to add up to unforced swing. As for bassist Jan Roder, who anchors bands such as Die Enttäuschung and Monk`s Casino, he walks when needed, strums thick lines when necessary and resonates notes so they seem to jump off the bass’s face.

Meantime the saxophonist collects a series of tongue flutters, peeps, rounded mouth pressures and mid-range trills; none of which succeed in raising the session’s tepid temperature. She does seem to perk up a bit on the second half dozen lines however. Her diaphragm-pushed accents and occasional honk give “Popology” a Monkish twist, for instance. Some passion enters in her breaks with Lübke on “Loofah”; and low-pitched note twisting and higher-pitched snorts are her response to the drummer’s wood-splaying pops on “Es Riecht Nach Vollem Haus”. But by then momentum is lost.

In contrast the members of the Gawronski trio hit the ground running with harsh bitten-off reed timbres, sawing bass lines and cymbal clashes on their tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Polish autocrat. Honestly one shouldn’t read too much into the title. But it should be noted that while Eberhard has been impressively schooled in music academies in Germany and with David Liebman in the United States and Canada; two of the three Venice-based players are mostly self-taught.

Bittolo Bon, who played bass guitar in Funk and Rock bands, has refined his improvising as part of the musicians clustered around the El Gallo Rojo collective, and now works with the likes of trombonist Gerhard Gschloessl and cellist Tristan Honsinger. Despite graduating from Civici Corsi di jazz in Milan, bassist Stefano Senni, another El Gallo Rojo member, also considers himself self-taught. That hasn’t stopped him from working with players ranging from saxophonist Lee Konitz to drummer Zeno de Rossi. Founding members of another collective, Improvvisatore Involontario, drummer Francesco Cusa has worked with figures as disparate as saxophonist Tim Berne and the trash metal/jazz band Zu.

With Rock music now so corporate and auto-tuned, one would hesitate to ascribe the trio’s energy to Rock. Maybe it’s the effluence from Venice’s canals that’s responsible for its extended power. Certainly the squeaky, ricocheting tempos at which the band plays are reminiscent of groups such as Prime Time and Berne’s early groups which improvised precisely as well as rocking out. Here, in true Italian fashion, emotions are on full display via the saxophonist’s peeps and split tone exaggerations, the bassist’s hard slaps and sul tasto pressure and the drummer’s pulses, clatters and rim shots.

Band members obviously have a broad sense of humor, as demonstrated by On “Sei Forte Papa” and “Tre Nipoti E Un Commodoro”. On the first Cusa’s clattering cymbals and tough back beat showcases Bittolo Bon’s zirconium-rigid tongue slaps and pitch-straining altissimo cries that gradually pull back to reveal the reedist’s take on “New York, New York”. His deconstruction of the tune includes repetitively piling tones and counter tones upon one another in unpredictable patterns. There’s a faint hint of “Jingle Bells” on the latter tune mixed with the saxophonist’s dot-dash split-tone extensions. As Senni walks swiftly behind him and Cusa pats his skins lightly, Bittolo Bon repeats the same note pattern for maximum tension. Just when it appears that he can’t go any further, his bugle call-like staccato lines turn to stutters, slurs and nephritic screeches as the drummer switches to back beats and cymbal clanks, The piece climaxes as the saxman pumps simultaneous multiphonics from both his alto and smartphone. With the trio moving among tempo and pitch changes throughout the disc, Jazz Gawronski defines improvisational exhilaration and has released a CD that’s worth seeking out.

Meanwhile Eberhard’s track record suggests that she too will return to form, perhaps next time out.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: What: 1. The Lizard 2. Da Wo's Schön Ist 3. Geckoline 4. Jetzt Und Hier 5. Tischtennis 6. Popology 7. It Could Have Been Anything 8. Leptosomen 9. I Have Been Waiting For You A Long Time 10. Loofah 11. Es Riecht Nach Vollem Haus 12. Lobsters Livelihood

Personnel: What: Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone); Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lübke (drums)

Track Listing: Dream: 1. The Mastella Variations 2. Swiatoslaw 3. Pimpin’ the Papamobile 4. Zibibboniek 5. The Amazing Kaczinski Twins 6. Soulidarnosc 7. Polonium 210 8. Maria Goretti Contro Tutti 9. Sei Forte Papa 10. Mori Mare Curi 11. Tre Nipoti E Un Commodoro 12. Goose Cat Well 13. Untitled I 2. Untitled II

Personnel: Dream: Piero Bittolo Bon (alto saxophone and smartphone); Stefano Senni (bass) and Francesco Cusa (drums)