July 26, 2012
Sticks, Stones & Breaking Bones
AntBoy Music AM 11 GRO 32
Leo Records CD LR 604
With the auditory after-effects of bombastic solos still throbbing following many drum displays, the idea of solo percussion showcases may be a hard sell among even the most open-minded. Moving into the realm of non-rhythmically-based, improvised music, as these inventive percussion architects have done here though, trades mere drum beating for expressive textural and timbral colors. Additionally with different contexts for boundless drumming showcased, the results are as variable as they would be for any solo instrumental display.
Veteran Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič has been involved with this search for novel rhythmic patterns for years. This was especially true during the 30 years preceding 2002 that he spent outside his home country playing with fellow experimenters including saxophonist Steve Lacy, Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann. Since returning to Slovenia, Kaučič has been involved with ensembles ranging from duos to big bands as well as poetry, dance and film projects. More than 20 years Kaučič’s junior, Will Guthrie is an Australian who now lives in Nantes, France. Experienced in playing straight-ahead Jazz and Rock, Guthrie is now more involved with unabashed improvised music and often works as one-third of the Free Jazz Ames Room group alongside bassist and fellow Aussie expat Clayton Thomas and French saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet.
Varying his efforts among ground drums, gongs, a Glockenspiel, voice, flutes, self-made instruments, the Sansula and the marimbula, and two different thumb pianos, Kaučič ensure that Emigrants’ 10 tracks expose enough textural variations in such a way that the result could be termed imaginary World music. With many of the pointed titles referencing the fate of persecuted minorities in Europe forced to migrate due to shifting political situations, Kaučič’s resonating, popping, rattling and jangling tones resemble both eastern and western sounds without settling on any one. These narratives are as likely to be characterized by the metallic reverb of a thumb piano, the piercing whistles of a faux-fife or the chiming of tubular bells as the expected rim shots, ruffs and drags from a drum kit. Besides whistling, at junctures the percussionist vocalizes as well, in guttural chants reminiscent of those of the North American Indians – who may have been among the first of the unjustly relocated minority peoples.
At the same time, while some CD tracks may sport neutral titles such as “Sound Fields” the performances are actually more visceral than those words convey. That piece, for example wraps kazoo-like shrills, approximations of crinkling foolscap, aviary cries, near-guzheng plucks and bell-tree resonations together. Other tracks such as “Faces without Dreams” belie their bleak tiles by weaving together harp-like strums and hand-patted thumps plus bounces, scratches and rubs on drum tops with an undercurrent of rhythmic sophistication. Not that there aren’t aspirations for a better life expressed sonically as well here. For example “Boat of Hope” vibrates with a tarantella-like undercurrent expressed with the staccato plinking and popping on what sounds like a steel drum. True to Kaučič’s Eurocentric vision however, there’s no Caribbean lilt in his rhythmic exposition.
More universal and abstract than the other CD, Sticks, Stones & Breaking Bones’ three tracks are firmly fixed on expanding percussion parameters. Throughout his rhythms are thicker and more fortissimo than Kaučič’s and extend as they move forward with staccato actions. At the same time as Guthrie interlocks and layers his beats the emphasis is on what can be done with a standard drum kit. To that end cymbals and hit-hat are constantly reverberating, while press rolls and other strokes resonate from toms and snares. Dealing with the acoustic properties of the set there are times when the wood that went into the construction of the instrument is audible, as are individual smacks on cow bells and wood blocks. At the same time auxiliary beats sound as well, as when or single mallet strokes on unattached cymbals or isolated water glass pings are heard; hoof-like clip clops resonate; palms and sticks are rubbed on vibrating surfaces, and it appears as if the studio floor and walls are being smacked as well.
Guthrie describes “Bones”, the third and lengthiest piece as “physically demanding”, and the stentorian repetitions he has developed for playing it over the years make the end product seem almost as opaque as it is concrete. Crescendos of every deepening pressure are layered with polyrhythms, but not enough so that the basic density is breached. With bass drum kicks, popping drags and ruffs coagulate the percussion thrust still further. The tension engendered soon references a delayed ejaculation ready to burst. Distinctively, but perhaps unsatisfying, that explosion never goes off. However cymbal slaps signal the climax, with the release feeding into a satisfying chromaticism.
By turning the focus from themselves to the instrument itself and tying the improvisations to athleticism – in the case of Guthrie – and social concerns – from Kaučič – the two percussionists have created listenable discs far removed from percussion showiness.
Track Listing: Emigrants: 1. Emigrants 2. Nocturno 3. Space Polka 4. Song of Humiliated People 5. Ten Steps in the Dark 6. Run over Borders 7. Sound Fields 8. Boat of Hope 9. Faces without Dreams 10. Mikelinica
Personnel: Emigrants: Zlatko Kaučič (ground drums, gongs, Glockenspiel, voice, Sansula, flutes, marimbula and self-made instruments)
Track Listing: Sticks: 1. Sticks 2. Stones 3. Breaking Bones
Personnel: Sticks: Will Guthrie (drums and percussion)