Baker/Bruckmann/Zerang

Psychotic Reaction
MultiKulti Project MP1015

Erb/Baker/Zerang

Erb/Baker/Zerang

Veto Records exchange 001

Percussionist Michael Zerang and pianist/synthesizer player Jim Baker have been playing part-time as a duo since 1995 as well as during the many years preceding and since then have been part of many Chicago ensembles, usually alongside sympathetic string and horn players. The focal point of these trio CDs, recorded five years apart, is how through trial-and-error the two create an appropriate setting when improvising with a single reed player. Neither sonically deferential nor intimidating, the two allow the third person to eke out a role in a balanced setting.

This musical balancing act was still being refined in 2006 when Psychotic Reaction was recorded with oboist/English horn player Kyle Bruckmann. Then Chicago-based, the reedist, who has since relocated to the Bay Area, is usually involved with minimalist sounds with an electronic component that skirt New music. In contrast the disc with Swiss tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetists Christoph Erb appears to have more oomph. One reason may be in that between them, Baker and Zerang have played with a collection of advanced saxophonists including Peter Brötzmann, Fred Anderson and Ken Vandermark. Meanwhile Erb has worked with stylists ranging from French drummer Daniel Humair to Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Clearly as well, the two Americans have also had an additional half-decade to develop their strategies.

Ostensibly named for the 1966 hit by San Jose, Calif., garage band Count Five, Psychotic Reaction has the prerequisite track titles for an LP by a psychedelic rock band, but the sound obviously goes far past primitivism. Baker’s synth and electronic work is centred on intermittent space flutters and signal-processed buzzes plus tangles of quivering static. No Revival-Rock basher, Zerang is instead involved with spherical rhythm elaborations and time deconstruction. This allows him to use a standard kit to replicate the distinctive patterns of a Central African djembe, a South African conga drum or a North African dumbek.

Unfortunately in 2006 this matchless virtuosity appears to have muted Bruckmann’s responses. There are tracks on which the reed man is figuratively MIA, and might literally have been so. Elsewhere the processed tangles of quivers and flanges on one hand from Baker, plus a combination of near-ceremonial hand percussion pitter-patter as well as ruffs, rolls and drags from the percussionist relegates Bruckmann to a secondary role. He’s most obvious when the strained, musette-resembling tones of his oboe shape themselves into Maghrebian coloring or when oscillated dirty air is expelled as commentary on the curlicue flutters and twists around him. There’s even a point where an unaffiliated vocalized line is heard, although whether from Bruckmann’s reeds or Baker’s electronics is unclear.

Five years later, the improvisational affiliation with Lucerne-based Erb, in the midst of a six-month Windy City stay, is more evenly balanced. Baker’s use of the piano also adds additional warmth to the tracks. “Opisthoproctidae” for instance, rubs up what could be defined as modern Jazz. Baker comps and expresses himself in piano clusters, while Zerang’s rippling side ruffs, bell-ringing and cymbal clatter join them to allow Erb’s saxophone narrative to evolve replete with almost Paul Desmond-like lyrical lightness. Ultimately, buoyant piano voicing, metal-and-skin ratchets and drags from Zerang meet contrapuntal harmonies from the saxophonist’s flutter tonguing. There is equal cooperation displaced on “Tauch” as the chalumeau pitches from Erb’s bass clarinet are melded with tonic swing from Baker’s piano keys and corrosive scrapes and swipes from Zerang’s percussion.

Probably the most extensive elaboration of the tripartite meeting occurs on “Devon”, although a descriptive climax appears on “Sakana”. On the former three parallel lines showcase squealing glottal punctuation from Erb’s horn, resonating rubs from Zerang’s percussion and loping glissandi from Baker’s synth. As the keyboardist loops calliope-like sounds into the mix, the reedist offers up a continuously breathed collection of strained multiphonics. As for “Sakana”, it mates ethnic music-like sequences to no-holds-barred improvisation. Here alongside slide whistle-like shrills and low-frequency glissandi from the synthesizer, the intervals of bell-like pings and naker-like pops from Zerang’s percussion are surmounted by echoing and almost ritualistic puffs from Erb’s horn with exotic timbres resembling those of a Tibetan gyaling.

Clearly the intervening years have allowed Baker and Zerang to perfect a winning three-part formula, as the CD with Erb confirms. Bruckmann deserves a rematch.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Psychotic: 1. Anxious Expectations of Paradise 2. We All Sleep Seared in Firey Wire 3. Pain Beasts of Collapsing Consumption 4. All Our Treasures Turned to Avalanche 5. 20,000 Light Year Ping Pong Party 6. Stretch Marks in Space Time 7. No Climax for the Conscious Dead 8. Bagpiping in the Shattered Vision Ward

Personnel: Psychotic: Kyle Bruckmann (oboe, English horn and electronics); Jim Baker (piano and electronics) and Michael Zerang (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Erb: 1. Silur 2. Opisthoproctidae 3. Fesch 4. Tauch 5. Sakana 6. Ogcocephalus 7. Devon

Personnel: Erb: Christoph Erb (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Jim Baker (piano and analog synthesizer) and Michael Zerang (percussion)