Una Casa/Observatorio
Three Chairs Recordings04/jardinista!recs j!015

Alfred 23 Harth/Soojung Kae/Chang U Choi

Red Canopy

Kendra Steiner Editions #200

Software programs and sonic mixing have become an increasingly important part of improvised music during the past few years. That’s why Una Casa/Observatorio and Red Canopy, two noteworthy and idiosyncratically packaged CDs, provide unique perspectives on these concepts. Both arrive from areas off-the-beaten-impov track.

A regular CD housed in an elongated sleeve the size of a pocketbook, Una Casa/Observatorio features Buenos Aires trumpeter Leonel Kaplan and Santiago-based alto saxophonist Edén Carrasco. They`re joined on both tracks by Austrian-born, Argentina resident Christof Kurzmann, who users lloopp software throughout these extensive live presentations recorded in both Chile and Argentina. Taking the completely opposite track, Red Canopy is a 3” mini-CD consisting of seven tracks created in his Seoul recording studio by Alfred 23 Harth, best-known as a pioneering German Free Jazzer. Harth takes tracks recorded separately by local bassist Chang U Choi, pianist Soojung Kae and himself on alto saxophone, bass clarinet, taepyeongso and guitar and mixes the parts into cohesive wholes that sound no more generic or any less cohesive than many other discs.

Harth, whose prolific, almost four-decade career has included collaborations with musicians as different as German composer/keyboardist Heiner Goebbels and Italian Jazz-Metal band 7K Oaks, moved to Korea a few years ago. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and the Boston Conservatory, Kae has played with the Korean Philharmonic plus Jazz with Americans like alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, as well as frequently with bassist Choi, whose experience encompasses Rock bands as well as Jazz groups. On the other CD, veteran improviser Kurzmann has worked with everyone from saxophonist John Butcher to turntablist Dieb13. Argentinean Kaplan has been a fixture on the South American improv scene for more than a decade and has also worked with players from overseas including American trumpeter Nate Wooley and French saxophonist Michel Doneda. Young Chilean Carrasco plays in a multiple of local band, as well as with the likes of German electronics expert Günter Müller and Austrian guitarist Burkhard Stangl.

Neither of the acoustic players on Una Casa/Observatorio treats his instrument any less as a sound source than Kurzmann does his max/msp-programmed software. From the top their joint abrasive growls, tongue stopping and detached whistles are as abstract as the lloopp’s layered granulation. As a matter of fact, the juddering textures, quivering loops and chunky drones from the computer are more distinctively identifiable. The nucleus of “Una Casa” begins to appear as wave forms are layered with flat-line blowing and lip bubbling from Kaplan plus key percussion and reed barks from Carrasco. With the interface staccato for the most part, the only pure acoustic moments occur when the saxophonist’s thin reed trills are complemented by a muted trumpet obbligato. By the finale it’s Kurzmann’s processed flanges and drones which distinctively blend the sound elements.

Similar, but more viscerally bestial, the track recorded in Santiago begins with a cat-like yowl and ends with the sound of a neighboring dog barking alongside the improvisations. Again the climatic variations involve timbral confusion as what appear to be electricity driven ratchets and yawns from Kurzmann latterly reveal themselves as breathed echoes from the horns without valve or key pressure. Abrasive sandpaper-like chaffing could be the result of the lloopp’s granular synthesis or by one or both of the horn men striking an unyielding object. At length as the computer thumps, pitch-slides and drones conflate, staccato counterpoint is set up between altissimo reed yelps and triplet squeezes from the trumpet’s highest pitches, with the sound eventually disappearing along with the pooch bark.

No household pets are present on the tracks organized in Harth’s Seoul studio-workshop, but neither are the other musicians, or in truth, the saxophonist himself. Created from tracks recorded four years previously, independent of what each musician played, Red Canopy is conceptual chamber music. That it hangs together so well is a much a tribute to Harth’s sound mixing as the initial improvisations.

At the same time, unlike the other CD, there’s no mistaking each of the instruments’ characteristic textures. “Shining” for example begins as the most legato and pseudo-impressionistic track, with Kae’s moderated piano strums meeting lyrical arco motions from Choi. But few recitals are interrupted by the renal-like shrilling of Harth’s double-reed taepyeongso, whose timbres are further amplified and accompanied by irregularly vibrated alto saxophone tones.

Multiple reeds are also audible on “8th Day” when Harth’s biting intro is quickly joined by first one, than another in counterpoint to the first vibrations. Meanwhile Kae busies herself pummeling the piano innards, with pedal sustain. More spectacularly “13th Month” mulches together bottleneck twangs from Harth’s guitar, circling split tones from his alto saxophone, stentorian bass thumps from Choi and Kae strumming and rumbling in the piano’s nephritic regions.

Both of these somewhat hard-to-find CDs provide a defining look at how international musicians are harnessing electronics and minimalist concepts to their own ends. The discs are impressive because the players demonstrate their supremacy over the non-human elements. But it’s also the skill of their collective planning and improvising that makes the CDs significant.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Three: 1. Una Casa 2. Observatorio

Personnel: Three: Leonel Kaplan (trumpet): Edén Carrasco (alto saxophone) and Christof Kurzmann (lloopp)

Track Listing: Red: 1. Un soir at Yeonhee 2. 25th Hour 3. Samsa 4. 8th Day 5. Shining 6. 13th Month 7. Un soir at Yeonhee II

Personnel: Red: Alfred 23 Harth (alto saxophone and bass clarinet, taepyeongso and guitar); Soojung Kae (piano) and Chang U Choi (bass)