Wild Chamber Trio

10,000 Leaves
NotTwo MW 880-2

Veryan Weston/Ingrid Laubrock/Hannah Marshall


Emanem 5025

Taking the chamber music instrumentation of piano, cello and woodwind as a base, but creating instant compositions with extended instrumental techniques in performance, these CDs literally delineate European Free Music. Nonetheless each is as different from the other as Austria is from England, proving that innovation arises in several forms. Despite its title, the three tracks on Haste, recorded at a festival in Barcelona, are dependent on understated patterning, unexpected vibrations and unfold at a mostly arthropodic pace – creations that are unfettered without being unruly. On the other hand, the aptly named Wild Chamber Trio invests 10,000 Leaves with many strident, staccato and strained sequences, creating an end product which studded with sharp angles and festering with sonic points.

Part of the reason for the variations may be geographic. Two of the three players on Haste are British, while the third, German soprano and tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, lived long enough in London, before relocating to New York, to internalize the small-gesture, so-called insect music that predominates in those circles. The others – veteran pianist Veryan Weston and cellist Hannah Marshall – are in the Trio of Uncertainty with classically trained violinist Satoko Fukuda, plus Marshall is part of The Shoreditch Trio, with other string players. However considering that the two also regularly work with such extroverts as vocalist Phil Minton and bassist Luc Ex, and sometimes lustily sing, British reserve may be as much a cliché as Teutonic toughness and noisiness.

Then again two members of the Wild Chamber Trio are Austrian. Graz-born pianist Elisabeth Harnik is a composer and teacher who has also improvised with saxophonist John Butcher and percussionist Michael Zerang. Meanwhile Swiss-born, Vienna-based cellist Clementine Gasser is also a composer, but she too has performed with Zerang, guitarist Peter Lössl and reedist Mikołaj Trzaska. Furthermore Pavia-born soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo, seems to be involved in both camps. Academically interested in the interconnection among music, visual arts, spoken and written words, he has in the past worked with British guitarist John Russell as well as Belgian soundsinger Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg.

Multi-shaded interaction with controlled pacing that stretch techniques without rupturing them are the hallmarks of Haste. Although there is a bit of rococo patterning at the beginning of “Leaning Up”, by the time the exposition is established, modernist spatialism predominates. Laubrock’s flute-like peeping from soprano saxophone is replaced by curved air currents and nasal trills. As the piece develop however, time variants threaten to become overly horizontal, melodiousness and moderato, until kinetic key clipping and staccato jumps from Weston and flying spiccato plus sul ponticello runs from Marshall appear. Reversing common roles, by this time the connective ostinato is provided by the tenor saxophonist, with the others given full rein to improvise. Resolution is in the form of an auxiliary theme appearing from the piano, and that low-frequency syncopation is intensified by straight-ahead pitches from the saxophonist plus sweeps and stops from the cellist.

Lead off “Sleeping Down Hill” runs the same textural gamut, with the trio members swapping metronomic for staccato impulses or moving from delineated bounces to arrhythmic characterizations as quickly as can be imagined – or accomplished. Overridingly group music, here and elsewhere on the disc, there are opportunities for each player to express him or herself. For instance, at points Weston trades note clusters for wide-ranging plucks or mood-setting patterning, speeding up and slowing down the exposition at will. Marshall sharply angles her attack atonally string shudders or heartily creates rhythmic coherence. In the final section, the reedist mutes her explosive harshness, exposed in counterpoint to the cellist’s col legno pacing, and instead joins the pianist’s exhilarating movement. In near tandem the three produce a finale which trades agitated expression for calming motion from all concerned.

Those agitated and staccato impulse are in evidence on 10,000 Leaves recorded three months previously. Slapped spiccato vibrations from Gasser’s 5-string cello, rolling keyboard swells, sharply voiced and arpeggiated from Harnik and squeaks, narrowed trills and percussive tongue slaps from Mimmo’s soprano saxophone predominate. With “Remaining Words” downsized, gentle and near melodious by its final bars, the CD’s most distinctive and characteristic pieces are the title track plus “Kitty Hawk”. So harsh and unyielding that it could have been put together by Italian Futurists, the latter combines key clipping and metronomic soundboard echoes with percussive slaps from the cello and a barnyard of extended techniques from the saxophonist, encompassing bitten-off notes, a harsh vibrato, lip growls and a point where the reed cries could be an infant’s demand for attention. Stretched multiphonic strings and pressurized reed tones serve as the climax.

As for “10,000 Leaves” the buzzy cello strokes, quivering piano runs and nearly vocalized peeping from the saxist unroll in close proximity, but never in tandem. Whether the reference is to leaves of a book or tree leaves is unclear. However part way through, a lyrical attempt does come from Mimmo, with string slides from Gasser and percussive and pan-tonal comping from Harnik creating an accompanying ostinato. Eventually as the cellist presses harder and harder against her strings and the saxophonist creates nasal multiphonics, the pianist’s percussive linkage draws all three into a final festive, near fantasia.

Just as its impossible to confuse one of these fine CDs for the other, so is it obvious from their collective work that there’s plenty of room left for many chamber-improv trio sessions in improvised music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Haste: 1. Sleeping Down Hill 2. Leaning Up 3. Courtesy of None

Personnel: Haste: Ingrid Laubrock (soprano and tenor saxophones); Veryan Weston (piano) and Hannah Marshall (cello)

Track Listing: Leaves: 1. Atomic Heart 2. Shade Multiplication 3. Fire Code 4. Radiance 5. 10.000 Leaves 6. Kitty Hawk 7. Remaining Words

Personnel: Leaves: Gianni Mimmo (soprano saxophone); Elisabeth Harnik (piano) and Clementine Gasser (5-string cello)