Barrel

Gratuitous Abuse
Emanem 5020

The Shoreditch Trio

Again: Live in Bruxelles

Amirani AMRN 029/Teriyaki TRK 02

United the by presence of British cellist Hannah Marshall, the Shoreditch Trio and Barrel provide two high-quality modes of investigating the expanses of free improvisation. Both ensembles have more in common than personnel and circumstances would initially indicate. That’s because, despite outward appearances, Barrel is no more a conventional string ensemble any more than Shoreditch is a common drum-less Jazz combo.

Besides Marshall, who also sings, teaches and works with the likes of guitarist John Russell and pianist Veryan Weston, Barrel includes two other members of the London Improvisers Orchestra: violinist Alison Blunt and violinist and violist Ivor Kallin. Kenyan-born, Blunt has recorded with saxophonist Ricardo Tejer, while Glasgow-born Kallin, was a member of the London Electric Guitar Orchestra alongside John Bisset with whom he also makes sardonic videos.

Although the Italians who fill out the Shoreditch group, named for an area in London’s Hackney borough, can’t match the Londoners in eccentricity, they can in musicianship. Pianist Nicola Guazzaloca has played with the likes of cellist Tristan Honsinger and is involved with improvising collectives in his native Bologna. Saxophonist Gianni Mimmo, a native of Pavia, explores subsets of improvised and experimental music in different groups, including a duo with fellow soprano saxist, Finland’s Harri Sjöström.

Together with Marshall, who eschews any hints of jazz rhythms, even when playing pizzicato, their extended improvisations are as concerned with disassociating instrumental timbres as they are with keeping a chromatic line moving. This staccato and angular approach is announced from the first notes of the four-movement “Heraclitus Suite”, presented in this Brussels-recorded concert.

Fidgeting piano clips are soon succeeded by darker explorations in the instrument’s nether regions, extended with pedals, as Marshall’s sul tasto ostinato advances alongside Woody Woodpecker-like vamps and sprightly flutter tonguing from Mimmo. As the exposition evolve in sections, the saxophonist dedicates himself to producing atypical reed timbres, ranging from comb-and-tissue-paper-like buzzing to altissimo squeaks, and including tongue pops and lip slaps. Meanwhile Guazzaloca’s slippery glissandi and full-force cascades evolve in studied counterpoint to Marshall’s staccato scrubs and discursive low-frequency runs. Eventually the three solder the disparate textures together into a comfortable andante narrative, which judders with pure air vibratos from the reedist, spiccato string strokes plus sweeping stop-start accompaniment from the pianist.

Although not extended to suite-length, the rest of the program follows a similar pattern. For instance, “Suggested Reason” is built on a buzzing continuum of cello glissandi and thumping piano chords, which accelerates in Marshall’s solo consists of double-stopping lines and rough shuffle bowing. In contrast to the stringed instruments’ ostinato plinks and vibrations, Mimmo’s showcase concludes with tongue-stopping and altissimo vibrations, although earlier on it attains a level of near flute-like delicacy. Audience appreciation throughout and at the conclusion of the recital designates that the Shoreditch three attained a proper balance. This dual exposure of friction and flattening tones is highlighted on “The Vanishing Circle”, the concluding track. As the saxist outputs a double-tongue obbligato and mid-range smears, and the cellist abrasive stops, Guazzaloca’s processional chording turns the interface chromatic, and his line is soon joined by a gentling air from Mimmo’s horn and hand-stopped strings from Marshall.

Meanwhile when it comes to Barrel, chamber music’s history of harmonizing the lustrous textures of violin, viola and cello are defiantly burlesqued and negated, although unity still exists during the two home-recorded and two gig-captured tracks that make up Gratuitous Abuse. But while some may think the strings, wood and even literature is being abrasively abused here, the string-players collective skill is such that nothing takes place gratuitously.

Most typical is the almost 32½ minutes devoted to “Moths & Feathers”. During the course of the intermittent interface, the trio members take on the roles of contemplative tone scientists – to borrow a term from Sun Ra – elevated recitalists or a phantom hillbilly band consisting of fiddle, banjo [!] and slap bass. You can hear the latter one-quarter of the way through as the trio’s arco interaction gives way to low-frequency double stopping on Marshall’s part, with Blunt and Kallin picking away like Flatt and Scruggs. Eventually that impulse passes and the three unite into lyrical glissandi, as gorgeously and carefully modulated as it had been earlier in the program. Soon enough that string unity splinters and roughens as thick wire-brush-like scrubs surface from the cellist and one of the violinists concentrates on the extended overtones of each note; then it’s back to moderato tempos and chromatic patterns. From the top, massed pitches share space with multiphonic pulls and stacked harmonies as the interface sporadically moves from lyrical to atonal, and back again. Among other oscillations suggested are microtonal pulses that could come from reeds, lowing pops that resemble breaking wind, strident dog-like yelps from the pressurized strings and col legno strokes from the cello and viola. By the final variant, the tempo slows as the higher-pitched fiddles combine for staccato vibratos as Marshall almost replicates a walking bass line. Bow-slapping the trio members stack and intertwine tones subsequently shifting downwards to an astringent ending.

As well as in this piece and earlier on, neither Kallin nor Marshall are shy about letting loose with the occasional vocal exhortation. Although, in contrast to their sometimes graceful glissandi that could pass for lyrical counterpoint, no one would mistake Marshall’s staccato tessitura or Kallin’s Glaswegian gurgles for bel canto vocalizing. Still on a track such as “Rigwiddie Snauchle Strikes Again in Style” – meaning and/or language unknown – their pizzicato and tremolo string overlays and voicing that at point resemble the performance of a canon, the lyricism is apparent along with the abrasion.

Those interested in a spiky variant of string trio combinations could be well advised to roll out to Barrel. Similarly The Shoreditch Trio uses an unusual instrumental combination to demonstrate again with Again a mastery of unidiomatic improvisation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Gratuitous: 1. Rigwiddie Snauchle Strikes Again in Style 2. Soft Porn & Hard Cheese 3. Sklatch: unseemly semi-liquid mess 4. Moths & Feathers

Personnel: Gratuitous: Alison Blunt (violin); Ivor Kallin (violin and viola) and Hannah Marshall (cello)

Track Listing: Again: 1. Heraclitus Suite: First Movement; Second Movement; Third Movement; Fourth Movement 2. The Remaining Tale 3. Una Lira Per Uno 4. Daily Transience 5. Suggested Reasons 6. The Vanishing Circle

Personnel: Again: Gianni Mimmo (soprano saxophone); Nicola Guazzaloca (piano) and Hannah Marshall (cello)