Kyle Bruckmann

On Procedural Grounds
New World Records 80725-2

Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack

Cracked Refraction

Porter Records PRCD 4061

As improvised music’s pre-eminent – well let’s face it probably only – oboe and English horn specialist, Oakland, Calif.-based Kyle Bruckmann has been flexing his organizational muscles as a band leader and composer during the past few years. These recent CDs showcase these talents admirably along, of course, with his distinctive soloing.

Gigging with New music ensembles, the Stockton Symphony and many area regional orchestras plus a smattering of Rock and electronic music bands is how Bruckmann makes his living, but it’s with his own Wrack quintet that he expresses his own ideas. Mostly consisting of Chicago musicians with whom Bruckmann played before relocating to the Bay area in 2003, the band is filled out by one player, violist Jen Clare Paulson, who is mostly involved in notated music ensembles, plus three others – bass clarinetist Jason Stein, bassist Anton Hatwich and percussionist Tim Daisy – who usually work the Improv/Jazz side of the equation, with associates such as saxophonists Ken Vandermark and Dave Rempis.

Wrack’s strength is that nowhere does the band sound like it’s playing a Third Stream pastiche, alternating between so-called classical and Jazz licks. Instead inferences from both of these musical streams as well as some Rock rhythms, courtesy of Daisy’s frequent backbeat and Hatwich’s unstoppable time keeping, result in a distinct Wrack sound. If anything the tunes could be divided between fast and slow rather than in any other ways.

On the later Paulson’s legato playing seems to predominate. The concluding “NJBC” for instance is moderated and linear with underplayed, almost Early Music-like harmonies from the two strings and two other reeds, with additional melancholy tones added from Bruckmann. Yet when it comes time for her solo, the violist manages to be both impressionistic and spiky. Plus the tune is built around Daisy’s marimba pops.

Meantime speedy showpieces like “Ratchetforms” and “The Dishevelator” concentrate on reed glissandi and twittering, double bass walking plus rolls and ruffs from the drummer. Stop-time and staccato, the latter piece includes a barnburner of a solo from Stein that’s all reed bites and agitated lines spurred on by some hand-banging percussion from Daisy. The former includes some neo-classical lyrical passages all swallowed notes and pinched timbres; although there’s enough reed kisses, wah-wah effects and whistles to keep things from getting too sentient.

Notwithstanding, “Notwithstanding” may be the best example of Bruckmann’s mature writing style. With a formal exposition that’s echoed in the piece’s final strains, the tune allows for multiple variations that take the shape of everything from processional harmonies from the viola and horns contrasted with double-pumping bass and the drummer’s press rolls; to Bruckmann and Stein intertwining to create strange traffic horn-like peeps and twitters.

In a way Wrack writ large figures in the extended composition which gives Bruckmann’s other disc its title and longest performance. “On Procedural Grounds” is a recasting of a piece composed for a Chicago Sound Map Project, now featuring the five Wrackers plus the ROVA saxophone quartet as well as Tim Perkis and Gino Robair playing live electronics. For almost 29½-minutes the 11-piece ensemble slithers its way through an invention that adds the jittering, time-shifting output of Wracks’s front line to swinging interpolations from the rhythm section, spinning riffs from ROVA and crackling oscillations and flanges from the two dial twisters. With ROVA’s Larry Ochs interpolating a vamping tenor saxophone solo with slap-tongue insouciance to the proceedings, the composition’s reaches its first climax as yakety sax licks meet Daisy’s doubled ruff and cowbell emphasis. Intervals of watery electronics presage a steadying pulse as the slurping snorts from Jon Raskin’s baritone saxophone turn into altissimo smears giving way to a bass clarinet intermezzo that match up with bubbling and signal processed electronic impulses. From that point until a finale of processed electronic delays, bowed strings and cumulative reed glissandi, the theme bounces from one instrumental group to the next, encompassing reed bites, tongue slaps, spetrofluctuation, lumbering string strokes plus horn harmony which references the head.

Besides examples of Bruckmann’s solo and duo work, the other major track on the CD is “Tarpit” featuring the oboist with a different Bay area ensemble, including reeds, strings, electronics and percussion sections plus Robair on prepared piano. An accomplished percussionist, Robair uses staccato plucks, quivering string undertow and concussion smacks and strokes to create the leitmotif of the composition. Added to this are Kjell Nordesen’s drum top rubs and drags, tambourine shakes and signal processed drones which contrast with the violin, viola and cello’s legato harmonized lines. Eventually these polytonal and polyharmonic sound undulations reach a crescendo of concurrent expression until timbral reed flutters and granulation punctuate the mass process for a distinctive conclusion.

Curiously, On Procedural Grounds is labeled “file under Classical/Contemporary…” although most of Bruckmann’s music is as aleatoric as it is notated. Perhaps some people are still leery of the J word. Whatever it’s labeled the music from oboist/English hornist/bandleader/composer results in two superlative CDS.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Cracked: 1. Exacerbator 2. Notwithstanding 3. Ratchetforms 4. Fair to Middling 5. The Dishevelator 6. A Shambles 7. NJBC

Personnel: Cracked: Kyle Bruckmann (oboe and English horn); Jason Stein (bass clarinet); Jen Clare Paulson (viola); Anton Hatwich (bass) and Tim Daisy (percussion)

Track Listing: Procedural: 1. Cell Structure* 2. On Procedural Grounds+ 3. Orgone Accelerator 4. Tarpit

Personnel: Procedural: Kyle Bruckmann (oboe, English horn and, electronics) with Matt Ingalls (clarinet with electronics); Wrack [Jason Stein (bass clarinet); Jen Clare Paulson (viola); Anton Hatwich (bass); Tim Daisy (percussion) and ROVA Saxophone Quartet [Bruce Ackley (soprano saxophone); Steve Adams (alto saxophone); Larry Ochs (tenor saxophone); Jon Raskin (baritone saxophone); plus Tim Perkis and Gino Robair (live electronics)+ or SFSOUND [Matt Ingalls (clarinet, bass clarinet); John Ingle (alto saxophone); Gino Robair (prepared piano); Benjamin Kreith (violin); Tara Flandreau (viola); Monica Scott (cello); Kjell Nordesen (percussion with electronics)