November 1, 2012
Watch The Walls Instead
Underwolf Records 002
NotTwo MW 872-2
Call it revenge of the microtonlaists, or if you prefer their accomplishment, but the eight improvisers represented on these two CDs are determined to create their music out of a combination of quivering timbres, minute sound bites and near static tempos. Appreciating their self-limiting goals depends on how much the listener is willing to accept reduced sonic parameters.
Part of the Boston to Brooklyn migration, all the players here seem to pledge their troth to the theories of the late reedist Joe Maneri and his influential classes at the New England Conservatory (NEC). Centre of both CDs are California-born saxophonist Noah Kaplan and Italian-born electric bassist Giacomo Merega. Associates of players ranging from guitarist Joe Morris who worked regularly with Maneri, to others such as guitarist Dave Tronzo and trumpeter Kirk Knuffke; their playing is nearly generically orthodox on Watch The Walls Instead. Over the course of a dozen mostly short tunes, hushed, limpid and stretched modes predominate, with few solos rising about moderato. Delineation is achieved when the two partner are joined on five pieces by guitarist Marco Cappelli, one of the founders of contemporary music group Ensemble Dissonanzen; an equal number add pianist Anthony Coleman, known for his experiments with advanced Klezmer music and who teaches at the NEC; with another two feature violinist Mauro Pagani, formerly of the Italian band PFM.
Ad Faunum’s selection are somewhat livelier since front man Joe Moffett, who is also involved in an art-song duo, wields the prototypical Jazz instrument the trumpet, and the drummer is Luther Gray, who besides microtonal experience has played with more extroverted soloists such as trumpeter Dennis González. Indian-born bassist Jacob William, who has worked with everyone from reedist Anthony Braxton to trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, is unassuming in his back-up work.
In quintet mode, Underwolf balances legato fiddle glissandi and vibrating, cut-off reed cries, often trading sweeping lyricism for hard-bitten sequences reflected in energetic guitar flanges, staccato fiddling and piano clinks. Playing as a quartet, an array of modes and tones from the musicians merge with one another to such an extent that the themes seem to want to attain chamber music gravitas while avoiding exuberance. Coleman mostly comps and Kaplan flutter tongues. That’s why “Still Yellow” and “Absence of Color” stand out. On the latter guitar licks and an oscillating electric tone that could come from a Theremin appear alongside the whimpering interface. Meanwhile “Still Yellow” is arranged so that electric bass thumps and tremolo piano chords move the saxophonist’s flutter tonguing upward to position itself alongside a complementary guitar line. This same sort of strategy is reflected on the trio tracks as Merega sometimes pumps and buzzes out a quivering bass bottom, and on “A Picture You Blinked”, swelling guitar flanges outline flat-line reed slurs that eventually turn sweet.
Subtracting some strings, adding an acoustic bassist and a trumpet brings different coloring to Ad Faunum. But it’s not if the quintet has become the Jazz Messengers. Often the doubled, bass lines sound as if they’re being plucked through a muslin curtain, while Moffett’s near-whispered tonalities are like those of Bill Dixon and Don Cherry, although occasionally Free Jazz-like smears come to the fore.
At least Kaplan is energized – or corrupted if statsis is the standard – in his playing here. For instance Gray’s ruffs, pops and slaps on “Dove Tail” plus a buzzing bass line connect microtones below and encourage tandem improvising from the horn men that takes the shape irregular voicing and slurs from the saxophonist and whinny, tremolo trumpet torque. Eventually the accelerating rhythm section action pulls back so that Kaplan and Moffett can create inward breathes, invoking parallel timbres while never precisely meeting.
Although other reed lines may be enervated and trumpet tones more taut than developed, the simpatico two basses and drummer allow up-front experimentation from the horns. Certainly Kaplan’s solo on “Matador” includes ferocious honks and tone stretching until the line nearly breaks; while Moffett’s grace note and tongue- introduces a unique type of harmony to the proceedings.
While both CDs are worth investigating, a prior appreciation of the players’ philosophies may be needed for acceptance and enjoyment.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Watch: 1. White With Clouds 2. Blue On Blue 3. Still Yellow 4. Absence of Color 5. Too Much Light to Tell 6. Metal or Wood 7. A Picture, You Blinked 8. Patterns On the Glass 9. Tentative Light 10. Things We Used to Know 11. Forgotten Corners* 12. Some Wind and Voices*
Personnel: Watch: Noah Kaplan (tenor and soprano saxophones [except 8]); Marco Cappelli (guitars); Giacomo Merega (electric bass); Anthony Coleman (piano [except 6-10]) and Mauro Pagani (violin)
Track Listing: 1. Herdsmen 2. The Other Species 3. Matador 4. Riding the Pegasus Down 5. Dove Tail 6. Where Buzzards Fly
Personnel: Joe Moffett (trumpet); Noah Kaplan (tenor saxophone); Giacomo Merega (electric bass); Jacob William (bass) and Luther Gray (drums)