Giancarlo Schiaffini/Sebi Tramontana

Wind & Slap
Rudi Records RRJ 1001

Joe Fiedler

Big Sackbut

Yellow Sound YSL 566843

Johannes Bauer/Matthias Müller/Christof Thewes


Gligg Records 013

Any one of these CDs could easily answer the question: “how many trombonists does it take to change a light bulb?” Substitute “improvise impressively” for the action and the answer becomes: “as many as needed”. At the same time, the four Americans, three Germans and two Italians represented on these sessions demonstrate that brass ‘bone creativity can be doubled and/or tripled.

Collectively eschewing any chordal or rhythmic back-up – as a matter of fact instruments of any kind except for brass – the nine players evolve distinguishing strategies for each of these ‘bone fests. Rome-based Giancarlo Schiaffini, and Munich-based, Sicilian Sebi Tramontana, both charter members of the Italian Instabile Orchestra for instance, break up their trombone dependency by also playing euphoniums (both) and tuba (Schiaffini) on their CD. In contrast, New York’s Joe Fiedler ascribes the tuba role to veteran low-brass specialist Marcus Rojas while Fiedler, Josh Roseman and Ryan Keberle stick to the slide instrument. Meanwhile Schiffweiler-based Christof Thewes and the two brassy Berliners, Johannes Bauer and Matthias Müller, play nothing but trombones on their six live tracks.

Quirky rhythms and good humor are the trademarks of improvisers like Schiaffini and Tramontana, who both often play with other musical jokesters like bassist Joëlle Léandre. Here, many of the CD’s instant compositions are fancifully titled, while the verbal asides and plunger strategies both players advance from their twin ‘bones are as apt to relate to pre-Bop stylists as Kid Ory and Vic Dickinson as fleet JJ Johnson-styled modernism.

Take for instance the final, title tune, where the aleatoric and eclectic cacophony buzzes through a mixture of Swing, Bop and even Dixieland references. Agitated tone blends are followed by double-counterpoint plunger runs and even shouts of “Go!” Meantime “As the Heartless Ghost” is concerned with demonstrating how high and how long the two can push grace notes through their horns. Nonetheless one trombonist is involved with tart variations plus large scale quivering snorts and gobbles, while the other concentrates on lyrical, straight-ahead positions, creating muted, almost trumpet-like textures.

On tuba, Schiaffini growls like a hippo masticating its food on “Beautiful Roots”, while Tramontana’s tongue-twisting lines harmonizes with him. Tellingly, Schiaffini’s euphonium strategies are mostly concerned with intersecting trembling grace notes plus staccato chords, whereas “As in my Bones”, with Tramontana on euphonium, depends on his pre-modern guffaws and whinnies as Schiaffini’s plunger trombone work is as fleet as it is echoing. Delineating their playing on different horns, Tramontana is speech-like and billowing in his solos, while Schiaffini’s interface is nephritic and staccato, even as his pants and slurs add near-burlesque timbres.

Switching the connective ostinato back-and-forth swiftly, on “Stones and Deadwood”, the two contrast a pseudo-marching band stomp with speedy growls, then work into cutting-contest-like, staccatissimo runs, and finally climax with hiccupping rhythmic pops from one and lower-pitched burps from the other.

Rojas doesn’t burp, but during the majority of the performances on Big Sackbut keeps the tunes flowing smoothly with constant pedal-point accompaniment. His bare bones basso assurance allows the others to step forward in different combinations. Fiedler, who has gigged with ensembles including the Mingus and Satao Fujii Big band, Latin groups and a Captain Beefheart tribute band, is also diverse in Big Sackbut’s song selection. While the majority of material is his, there are also compositions by Don Van Vliet (AKA Beefheart); Willie Colon and Sun Ra.

It’s the last, Ra’s “A Call for all Demons”, which is most descriptive. The amiable melody is reconfigured for four brass instruments without losing its Jazz individuality, but mettle still remains, thanks to Rojas’ tuba puffs. On top Roseman, who has played with musicians as different as keyboardist John Medeski and saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum; and Keberle, who experience encompasses Latin bands plus gigs ranging from Maria Schneider orchestra to backing Justin Timberlake, take turns exposing machine-gun-like staccato tonguing.

Brass expansion doesn’t end there however. Fielder’s solo on “Does This Make My Sackbut Look Big” is filled with contrapuntal triplets, built up with constant burrs and sliding slurs and completed by a colorful turnaround. Meanwhile his strategy on his own “#11” is smoothly balladic, with rubato trilling sneaking out from among the others unison blustery capillary lines until it finally reaches legato harmonies. Creating arrangements in a different fashion, he and Keberle stack multiphonic cries on top of one another on “The Crab”, with Rojas’ ostinato strengthening the layering. Slithering between mouthpiece sucking and speedy triple tonguing, Fiedler manages to maintain a chromatic motion for the tune.

With other tunes on Big Sackbut reflecting harmonies that alternately could arise from Jay & Kay, the Boss Brass, Blood, Sweat & Tears or a New Orleans marching band, the quartet is most individually notable on “Ging Gong” which features Rojas’ only solo. With pitch-sliding inflections in the exposition, which seem to result from the mating of a crocking frog and a twanging Jew’s harp, the tubaist eventually turns to Second Line pumping as the trombone trio bites down on harsher slurs. By the finale the tuba’s balanced bottom notes provide the base on which everything from hoedown suggestions to snorting blue notes are displayed, culminating in a tremolo finale that keeps the rhythm going as nearly every brass note from the highest to the lowest is featured fortissimo.

Many of these same brass strategies are exhibited, often at breakneck pace, in the Bauer-Müller-Thewes capillary meeting. Each player too has extensive experience Müller with bands featuring the likes of guitarist Olaf Rupp and trumpeter Nils Ostendorf; Thewes with bands including pianists Ulrich Gumpert and Uwe Oberg; and Bauer with everyone from saxophonist Evan Parker to drummer Roger Turner.

There are points here at which it seems that the combo from a rickety-tick minstrel show has suddenly decided to try out some of Vinko Globokar tougher trombone exercises. That’s because some tunes balance on a swinging beat created by a slide ostinato, as soloists compete to see who can blow the loudest and strongest. Renal growls, staccatissimo jitters, triple-tonguing smears, whinnies and staccato bites are all heard. Affiliated, but not in unison, the resulting textures can be half fire engine siren and half euphonious whine, before finally reaching a point where singular smears collide. Elsewhere the collective bass notes are such that subterranean tones are lower pitched than anything pulled from the tubas on the other CDs; other times long-lined puffs stack up into brassy bugle-like fanfares.

Passing the narrative among all three trombonists, the session’s layered tour-de-force is the aptly named “Quintessence”. Taken at a breakneck pace, the oscillations and multiphonics frequently meld into a dense mass. But despite the solid mass, individual timbres are still audible. As the intermezzo intensifies, combinations of trios, duos and solos are tried out, as are a nuanced collection of extended techniques. For instance two ‘bonemen harmonize as the third develops a solo out of air bubbled through the horn’s body tube without slide or valve motions. Multiphonics take the form of unattributed clicking sounds, animal-like yelps, drum stick approximating rattles or old-timey tailgate-styled slurs. Bravura in execution, nephritic buzzes are heard along with split-tone variations on the theme which become more staccato as it develops. Finally the three join in mellow, good-humored tessitura which extends without rigidity into a powerful finale.

If trombone sounds pull your slide, than you should be in brass heaven with any or all of these CDs. At the same time each confirms that the right players can create an enthralling recital with only the timbres available from multiple brass instruments.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing Posaunenglanzterzett: 1. Blümlein Aus Stahl 2. Quintessence 3. Signal I 4. Signal II 5. Signal III 6. Keep On Krach Making

Personnel: Posaunenglanzterzett: Johannes Bauer, Matthias Müller and Christof Thewes (trombones)

Track Listing: Wind: 1. Quiet As A Bone 2. As Tone Lies Lost 3. As The Heartless Ghost 4. As They Dive+ 5. As In My Bones+ 6. This Shade 7. Beautiful Roots^ 8. Holy Leaves* 9. In The Wind’s Wakes* 10. As A Purple Sofa^ 11. She Was Still Stoned 12. As An Empty Stone 13. As A Strange Tongue 14. About Sleepwalkers and Wind 15. Stones and Deadwood 16. Wind and Slap

Personnel: Wind: Giancarlo Schiaffini (trombone, euphonium* or tuba^) and Sebi Tramontana (trombone or euphonium+)

Track Listing: Sackbut: 1. Mixed Bag 2. The Crab 3. Don Pullen 4. A Call for all Demons 5. #11 6. Calle Luna, Calle Sol 7. Blabber and Smoke 8. Ging Gong 9. Does This Make My Sackbut Look Big? 10. Urban Groovy

Personnel: Sackbut: Joe Fiedler, Josh Roseman and Ryan Keberle (trombones) and Marcus Rojas (tuba)