December 10, 2012
ILK 191 CD
ILK 195 CD
By Ken Waxman
Recorded five days apart in Copenhagen in 2010, these CDs from two young veterans of the Danish improv scene, present differing versions of defining contemporary music. They also demonstrate the demand for the talents of tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, featured on both discs. If the Brooklyn-based Speed doesn’t have enough to do stateside, helping to run Skirl Records and playing with many so-called downtowners, he frequently gigs in Europe. Connections go deeper than that, of course. Guitarist Mark Solborg and pianist Jacob Anderskov, the CDs’ leaders, earlier forged connections with Speed while working and studying in New York. Anderskov’s Granular Alchemy and Solborg 4+4+1 are among the dozens of musical projects in which each is involved.
The second CD with this band, the pianist’s session features four interlocking tracks, specifically composed for this configuration. More Americans, veteran bassist Michael Formanek and inventive drummer Gerald Cleaver complete the quartet. Overall Granular Alchemy is a fine example of high-quality no BS playing. More ambitious in scope, Solborg 4+4+, recorded during Copenhagen’s jazz festival, adds additional horn players to the guitarist’s basic quartet of saxophonist/clarinetist Anders Banke, bassist Jeppe Skovbakke and drummer Bjørn Heebøl for perfectly balanced, multi-hued compositions where each instrument fits snugly into a grander scheme. Joining the Solberg quarter are trumpeter Gunnar Halle, trombonist/tubaist Jakob Munck, alto saxophonist Laura Toxværd and saxophonist/clarinetist Torben Snekkestad plus Speed: thus 4+4+1.
In all honesty, despite his featured status Speed is more upfront on Anderskov’s session than on Solborg’s. Distinctly group music, consecrated to equilibrium, exposure of complex harmonies or contrapuntal patterns is more important than individual solos on the guitarist’s date. That said each of the reed soloists acquits him or herself admirably, with contributions ranging from harsh and squawking to smooth and swinging. Otherwise Munch’s mid-range trombone guffaws or distant tuba pedal points provide necessary contrast and continuum. “The Whispers” for instance is an atmospheric study that relies on unison sound modulations rather than groove or flashy solos. With the eight players harmonized and moving as one, only angular guitar jabs, swabbed bass strings and reed whistles pierce the dense arrangement. Eventually the narrative is deconstructed as discursive trumpet grace notes, a chalumeau bass clarinet line and slurred fingering from the guitarist jockey to end the piece. Throughout the disc, sympathetic polyphony is the compositions’ main component as balanced textures from a single player or groups of players are subtly added and quickly subtracted. Recapitulating the strategy in miniature, the concert climaxes with “Open Parenthesis (with BOB)”. Bouncing from a duet of focused guitar licks and mid-range sax smears to drum pops and cymbal clatters before horns play the exposition, bright clarinet split tones, explosive guitar flanging and splintering sax vamps create contrapuntal variations of the dense theme. Gradually descending reed quivers and bass plucks mark the thoroughly grounded ending.
If Solborg’s CD impresses due to predetermined patterns and formal balance, then Anderskov’s session does so because of its looseness. With the Americans all having worked in altoist Tim Berne’s combos among other situations, a familiarity of form and skills is shared. Cleaver’s bumping and smacking provides rhythmic variations, while Formanek’s tremolo pacing cements the bottom. Whether playing lyrical clarinet lines or vibrating rugged tenor saxophone fills, Speed maintains his individuality. Recurrently and with equivalent high energy, he frequently parallels the pianist’s staccato improvisations. Besides using repeated runs to match Speed’s shrills, at points Anderskov’s arpeggio sprinkling or sudden octave jumps complete a percussive sound collage otherwise consisting of the bassist’s stentorian slaps and the drummer’s ruffs and drags.
This integrated improvisation reaches a climax with the final “Suite: Wind/Skin”. Dramatically set up with passing chords from Anderskov, Cleaver’s unvarying thumps and Speed’s pressurized clarinet chirps, the narrative tension only dissipates when the pianist’s patterning halves the tempo to introduce the second theme. As the pianist piles tremolo chords on top of one other, Speed’s theme variations shrilly wheeze for emphasis. Exhibiting his most abstract work here, the reedist stretches the textures with strident glossolalia, until the pianist redirects the final section to moderated motion.
Whether you prefer your jazz free-form and energetic or stunningly built up from a palate of tonal colors, each of these mostly Danish CDs will satisfy. Plus on the evidence of his contributions to these dates, it’s understandable why Speed continues to rack up frequent flyer points with his European jaunts.
Tracks: Granular; Sediments; Sand; Metal; Suite: Wind/Skin
Personnel: Granular: Chris Speed: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Jacob Anderskov: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums
Tracks: 4+4: Mrs. Pedersen takes the Tram; 2620; Almost; The Whispers; Open Parenthesis (with BOB)
Personnel: 4+4: Gunnar Halle: trumpet; Jakob Munck: tuba, trombone; Laura Toxværd: alto saxophone; Torben Snekkestad: tenor, soprano saxophone, clarinet; Anders Banke: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mark Solborg: guitar; Jeppe Skovbakke: bass; Bjørn Heebøl: drums
—For New York City Jazz Record December 2012