April 11, 2012
Leo Records CD LR 616
Alexey Kruglov/Alexey Lapin/Vadimir Shostak
SoLyd SLR 0413
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin
FMR CD 321-0911
Something In The Air:
Common Ground Between Canadian and Russian Improvisers
By Ken Waxman
Unlike many Canadian improvisers, François Carrier is no home body. Peripatetic, the Montreal-based alto saxophonist spent months gigging in Italy and England, was one of the few Westerners to play the Kathmandu Jazz Festival, and most recently has put out discs recoded during his 2010 Russian concert tour. A session such as All Out FMR CD 321-0911 recorded with his long-time associate, Toronto drummer Michel Lambert, and St. Petersburg pianist Alexey Lapin, is not only notable musically, but also shows how erudite players from two of the world’s Northern hemisphere nations have much in common.
Carrier’s reed strategy includes elements of Cool Jazz note gliding as well as Avant Garde dissonance, and the Russian pianist constructs proper responses with alacrity. “Ride”, for instance, leaves the bomb dropping and clattering to Lambert’s kit as Lapin’s multi-fingered kinetic runs syncopate alongside Carrier’s spiky vibrations and false-register nasality plus dexterous explorations in the tenor register. Despite the saxophonist squeezing out multiple theme variants until he reaches conclusive downward runs, Lapin stays the course with unflappable chording as the drummer balances both men’s lines with military precision. In the solo spotlight, Lambert approximates the power of Art Blakey on “Wit” with cross-sticking rim shots and bass drum thumps, the better to later mix it up with Lapin’s dynamic cadenzas plus Carrier’s stuttering rubato lines and quivering split tones. The percussionist also asserts himself on “Of Breath” with a mallet-driven solo of whacks, bangs and ruffs, leading to the crescendo of high intensity further propelled by Lapin’s metronomic pulsing and Carrier’s flattement and triple tonguing.
Lambert’s talent is given full reign on the Maïkontron Unit’s Ex-Voto Rant 1140. Although he and Carrier often seem like the inseparable Damon and Pythias of Canadian Jazz, this trio CD features the drummer with bassist/cellist Pierre Côté and saxophonist/clarinetist Michel Côté. Both Lambert and reedist Côté also play the maïkontron, a valves and keys reed instrument with a range below the bass saxophone’s. Lambert, has divided the CD into tableaus based on images from Hieronymus Bosch, although the performance is actually less programmatic than intuitive, with straightforward pulsing as well as dissonant timbre extensions. Despite a forbidding title, a track such as “Marinus” (Tableau 9) for instance, is an out-and-out swing piece. It features pin-pointed snare work and clean cross sticking from Lambert, unbroken vibrations from the bassist and Michel Côté’s clarinet exploring the theme with mid-range chirping and tonguing. Other tunes such as “Votivae Noctes” (Tableau 4) are slow-paced and constrained as Côté’s supple clarinet line contrasts markedly with the maïkontron’s blurred snorts and an at first quivering, than walking, cello line from Pierre Côté. As reed split tones accelerate, they’re exposed nakedly beside splayed string motions. Both reeds burbling and puffing plus the string player’s sul tasto strumming end up creating other tableaus elsewhere, with sly references to half-recalled ballads, or in contrast, intricate multiphonics. Lambert’s drum versatility is given expanded showcases on Fluctus… the first part of Tableau 10, and “Praestigator”, the introduction to Tableau 19. The second features kettle drum pops and faux gamelan-orchestra-like resounds playing off rhino-like snorts from the maïkontron; while the irregular counterpoint of “Fluctus…” matches clarinet shrieks with hand slaps and pats that suggest congas and steel drums.
Percussion in a formal sense is absent from Composition #37 SoLyd SLR 0413, but the same high standard of musicianship Carrier and Lambert exhibit is present on this live recording in St, Petersburg by their confrère, pianist Lapin, along with Moscow-based alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov and 5-string bassist Vadimir Shostak. Both the pianist, who has also recorded with British drummer Roger Turner and German saxophonist Matthias Schubert, and the bassist take turns maintaining the extended composition’s bottom pulse, with the majority of counterpoint between Lapin and Kruglov. Unexpected kazoo-like echoes and peeps arise when the reedist plays using only his mouthpiece; later he creates equally unsettling wounded animal-like lows with a trombone mouthpiece screwed onto his horn’s neck. Reacting with the same aplomb he uses with the Canadians, Lapin’s styling ranges from tremolo cascades and rugged string strumming, to plucks and thumps emphasizing the piano’s inner strings preparation, to wide-ranging lyrical harmonies that mirror Russian romanticism. With studied silences marking the composition’s development, no variant is overused. Plus with Shostak’s wood rubbing and string slaps employed prudently and judiciously, no number of reed bites, mouthpiece yelps or inside piano string scraps cam derail the narrative. As Lapin’s fortissimo syncopation attains a similar muscular lyricism as Kruglov’s tongue fluttering slurs, the bassist’s low-pitched arco work sweeps the individual sounds together with enough power to reach a satisfying finale.
Working with his own trio, filled out by bassist Dmitry Denisov and drummer Vladimir Borisov, Kruglov struts his stuff in the magnum opus that is Identification Leo Records CD LR 616. Emotional and polyphonic, “Identification” supposedly translates certain Russian words and letters into sounds. Someone who has recorded with major Glasnost-era stylists such as drummer Vladimir Tarasov and pianist Vyacheslav Ganelin, Kruglov plays alto and tenor saxophones, saxophones without mouthpieces, mouthpieces alone, block flute, piano and prepared piano, sometimes simultaneously. In fact the session begins with pseudo-romantic, prepared piano tremolo chording backed by the mere hints of bass and drum textures, until reed squeaks explode in tandem with the pulsing piano. This sets the pattern for the 64½-minute narrative which showcases different variants and intermezzos from Kruglov as he cycles through all his instruments. One interlude matches jittery tenor saxophone slurs with Borisov’s bass drum, pushed into parade-ground tempo; another is made up of strained sul ponticello lines from Denisov as well as echoing plucks on internal piano strings; yet another contrasts rim shots and rolls from the drummer with waves of unstoppable glossolalia from Kruglov’s alto saxophone. At junctures, the piano’s soundboard plucks start to resemble baroque era harpsichord playing. Besides improvising on keyboard and saxophone at the same time, Kruglov also creates fortissimo slide-whistle shrills using only the mouthpiece or masticates and French kisses the reed to expose spittle-encrusted smears. Not only can Kruglov blow both saxophones in unison, producing both high-pitched and low-pitched glottal punctuation, but he’s also able to split the peeping timbres of the block flute into distinct multiphonics. Throughout the meandering upturns and downshifts that make up the segmented piece, the bassist and drummer contribute fierce strums, resounding clatters, vibrating echoes and tough plucks. For the finale a slow-paced, emphasized line is sounded by tenor saxophone and doubled with harsh plucks from the bassist, only to conclude with Kruglov again echoing piano chords to recall the exposition.
Russians and Canadians have long related to one another due to a shared legacy of a cold climate and a large land mass. The high-standard of playing exhibited on these CDs confirms that as far as free-form improvisation is concerned, musicians share another attribute as well.
— For Whole Note Vol. 17 #7