Urs Leimgruber/Ulrich Phillipp/Nils Gerold

Creative Sources CS 159 CD

By Ken Waxman

Organic sounds with a spiritual bent, HIN matches players from different cities in a 55-minute slab of uncompromising improv. That the result is so satisfying is a tribute both to the individuals’ skills as well as the malleability of free expression.

Saxophonist Urs Leimgruber from Luzern, Switzerland, has worked with players as disparate as guitarist Christy Doran and bassist Joëlle Léandre. Wiesbaden, Germany-based bassist Ulrich Phillipp organizes the city’s annual Human Noise Congress. Bremen`s Nils Gerold, who plays flute and piccolo, wrote his graduating thesis on religious tendencies in improvised music. Not that there are any overtly spiritual messages in HIN, compared to, say, John Coltrane’s later music. But by concentrating on pure music, a dimension of mysticism is implicit. Like the Holy Trinity, each musician has a defined role, but the only transubstantiation that occurs is the blending and altering of textures.

Phillipp’s pulses and pops serve as both the rhythmic base, which supports the two reed players, as well as the Greek chorus commenting on their ethereal flights. Distant at junctures, the bassist also contributes resolute string sweeps and buzzes to keep the interaction linear. Still his occasional angled expansions confirm that his solo skills remain untapped. In contrast, Gerold’s and Leimgruber’s game plan involves variants of connections, counterpoint and cynosure. Soprano saxophone split tones and high-pitched shrieks from the flute are sometimes indistinguishable. However sequences of staccato tongue-stopping and slapping plus masticating reed bites confirm the saxist’s individuality. Conversely, although nearly continuous, the flutist’s flighty peeps call for resonating replies from Leimgruber’s horns. During the improvisation’s penultimate and ultimate variations, harmonic melding is achieved. Single-line plucks from Phillipp harden into stretched string stops; Leimgruber’s whistles and tongue slaps turn to spittle-encrusted slurps; and Gerold’s haphazard flutters turn to cadenced chirrups.

As fascinating in its elaboration as its conclusion, even to agnostics, HIN may suggest the spirituality of musical exploration.

Tracks: HIN

Personnel: Urs Leimgruber: soprano and tenor saxophones; Nils Gerold: flute and piccolo; Ulrich Phillipp: bass

—For New York City Jazz Record August 2012