Splitrec 20

Fred Lonberg-Holm/Piotr Mełech

Coarse Day

MultiKulti Project MP1014

Expanding the limits of what constitutes a duet these woodwind-and-string duos exploit free improvisation’s technical openness to distend the terrestrial qualities of their respective instruments. The results are exploratory, spontaneous and ultimately convincing.

The background to these CD meetings couldn’t be more different. Saxophonist and flautist Jim Denley and bassist Mike Majkowski are both experienced Free music players from Sydney, Australia. Over the years, Denley has played with the likes of German trumpeter Axel Dörner and Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr; and Majkowski with German drummer Paul Lovens and Dutch keyboardist Cor Fuhler, among many others. The two have also worked as a duo since 2008, although this unedited disc is the first time they’ve managed to successful record together. In sharp contrast, Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and clarinettist Piotr Mełech from Poznan, Poland are first-time collaborators. A member of the long-established local Enterout Trio, the reed man has also worked with outsiders ranging from Australian bassist Clayton Thomas to Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang, a long-time associate of the cellist. Lonberg-Holm is arguable the busiest cellist in improvised music, working regularly with everyone from American reed men Ken Vandermark to German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann.

During the course of eight tracks that make up Coarse Day however geographic limits and separations melt away along with bar lines, compositional motifs and predetermined arrangements. Once the mix is established quivering tones moves up and down the scale. Although most sequences are staccato, some are taken legato and by the end a few even extrude a bluesy overlay.

More common are those tracks such as “Tangle of Loops”, which rather than dealing with repetitive timbres, work up to agitated, irregular counterpoint. As Mełech’s tongue stutters express extensions and partials as well as slithering initial lines, Lonberg-Holm’s sul ponticello splays jitter with electronics. When the clarinetist propels a pedal-point rhythm the cellist responds with scrubbed, higher-pitched crackles. In contrast, when for instance Mełech creates mid-range echoes on “Slit in Slot”, Lonberg-Holm’s arpeggiated twangs roughen the interface forcing the reed cries to augment irregular vibrations. Eventually string pumps join with reed bites in unison.

Perhaps the track most descriptive of the rugged Polish-American concord is “Layer Seven” – definition unexplained. This sequence unites contrapuntal cries, intense squeaks and reed bites on the clarinetist’s part with Lonberg-Holm’s pressurized string clutching, col legno strokes and skittering turns which encompass processed reverb and flanges. By its climax Mełech is overblowing to create percussive rhythms, while the cellist colors the proceedings with electronic signals and clipped runs.

Electronics aren’t in use on Calibrated, but with Majkowski adding pitch pipes and objects to his improvising elements plus Denley`s command of extended techniques on alto saxophone and various flutes, most of the time the sonic blend is such that it’s nearly impossible to ascribe many of the textures to an individual instrument. Multiphonics are as frequent as straight lines, while staccato flutters and shrilling ostinatos immeasurably outnumber legato lines. Presented in the sequence they were recorded, the duet tracks build up to “Branes”, which at nearly 26½ minutes, is more than twice the length of the initial two tracks.

Beginning with pitch-pipe shrilling, the tune meanders over many parts of the sound field. Majkowski’s abrasive motor rubbing join with his wooden-sounding bass strokes for a stop-time showcase as Denley’s key percussion and reed kisses soon give way to thick tongue slaps and intense blowing. Continuously linear, string and reed timbres are sequentially distant and upfront, with the timbres from each man often sounding nearly identical. A mid-point climax involves wide and basso flute flutters meeting equally low-pitched plops from the bass with the subsequent flat-line blend narrowing the oral sounds to miniscule peeps and the digital ones to hollowed rumbles. In tandem the two work up to a crescendo with Denley braying fat vibratos without fingering the keys and Majkowski ringing bells, puffing harmonica-like gusts as well as exposing what could be motor-driven buzzes. Finally inflating saxophone obbligatos become almost mellow enough to parallel ricocheting bass-string patterns.

Involving two reeds and two stringed instruments of similar history in a series of duets created by individuals who have worked together for different lengths of time, these two CDs couldn’t be more dissimilar. Their similarities arise in how the four analyze the situations to come up with exemplary improvisations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Coarse: 1. Cloudburst 2. Slit in Slot 3. Blunt 4. Tangle of Loops 5. Layer Seven 6. Finger on the Trigger 7. Mildrew Gourmets 8. How are you, Mr., Loony?

Personnel: Coarse: Piotr Mełech (clarinet and bass clarinet) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics)

Track Listing: Calibrated: 1. Pod 2. Oats 3. Branes

Personnel: Calibrated: Jim Denley (alto saxophone and flutes and Mike Majkowski (bass, pitch pipes and objects)