Joe Hertenstein/Achim Tang/Jon Irabagon

Future Drone
Jazzwerkstatt JW 126

Mikolaj Trzaska/Olie Brice/Mark Sanders

Riverloam Trio

No Business Records NBLP 52/NBLP 53

With experimenters such as Sonny Rollins, Peter Brötzmann and Ornette Coleman having pioneered the reed/bass/drum trio as a paramount improvisatory vehicle nearly a half century ago, mercurial efforts like these are almost expected in terms of Free Jazz elaboration. Yet such is the malleability of the process that each of these trans-nationalist efforts defines its strategy differently.

Consisting of five protracted and hectic instant compositions, the Riverloam Trio might be considered classic Free Improvisation. Upfront is Gdańsk-based alto saxophonist and bass clarinetist Mikolaj Trzaska, who has worked with Ken Vandermark, Brötzmann and others. And since the CD was recorded in Birmingham, England, there’s a top-flight British rhythm section on board. Drummer Mark Sanders has backed saxophonist John Butcher and pianist Veryan Weston among many others; and bassist Olie Brice is in ensembles with flautist Neil Metcalf and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.

Recorded one month later in Köln, with seven of out of the nine briefer tracks, group compositions, Future Drone’s aim is somewhat different. It appears to be another in a series of recent CDs in which American tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon, best known for his membership in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, uses every sort of extended reed technique to demarcate his personal relationship to the instrument. German drummer Joe Hertenstein, now resident in New York, who composed two balladic tunes here, contributes sophisticated percussion backing, while veteran Köln bassist Achim Tang’s thick stopping maintains the CD’s centrifugal force.

For his part, Trzaska’s fully unencumbered free expression encompasses extended Aylerian glossolalia, with nephritic Brötzmannian extrusions his fall-back playing position. Intensity and tenacity are present in so many of his solos in fact, that at junctures the sidemen let off encouraging yells as if the reedist is a competitor in a particularly grueling sporting event. He also always seems to be playing. Even when he isn’t soloing, as in “Carnival of Shapes”, which begins with a short, shattering and resounding pattern from Sanders, Trzaska underscores the percussion exposition with a quivering, stratospheric reed hiss. More definitive is a track such as “Kornic”. Over its exposition Trzaska moves from exposing harsh saxophone extensions which sound as if he’s scraping his lung tissue each time he bites down on his reed; to mid-range bass clarinet puffs, made more exotic when altered with in-the-throat gargling. As Trzaska continues blowing, gradually adding layers of cries, shrieks and growls to his tone, Brice unleashes slapping, stentorian runs and Sanders more calming irregular ruffs. Later on, a slower-paced sequence is made unique by the percussionist’s measured marital accents, eventually redefining the tune despite Trzaska’s extroverted and aching multiphonics.

Unlike Sanders’ fiery whaps, Hertenstein’s most common drum trope is lightly popping bongo-like accents. Tang too can often be counted upon for a walking bass line. Meanwhile Irabagon often comes across like a member of a Doomsday cult, whining and screeching irregular altissimo and tremolo phrases as if there’s no tomorrow. By “Seven for Nothing” and “Rotten Strawberry” – the climatic tracks – however the band and saxophonist’s game plan becomes clear. With Irabagon on the former actually blowing obbligatos to Tang’s nuanced and almost unending stops, the drummer’s cymbal slaps and the bassist’s sul ponticello lines then give the saxophonist freedom to pursue his disconnected slurps and pitch variations. “Rotten Strawberry” brings the tactic to fruition. As Hertenstein rolls and Tang pumps, Irabagon becomes tone scientist of the tender fruit variety, vibrating, tonguing, tasting and savoring every sigh, honk, razz and whistle he extracts from the horn over and over again. This research continues for such a protracted period, that all the musicians start to laugh and the sequence is disrupted for a few measures to allow everyone to re-attain equilibrium. Finally with the drummer thrashing powerfully, Irabagon unleashes narrower and sharper tones which soar to triumphant bugle-like, battle cry vibrations.

Noteworthy examples of probing improvisational music, these sets also demonstrate that there are plenty of nuances left to explore in the reed-bass-drums configuration.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Riverloam: LP1: 1. Riverloam 2. Kornic LP2: 1. Ostrich Season 2. Carnival of Shapes 3. Sumac and Pokeweed

Personnel: Riverloam: Mikolaj Trzaska (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Olie Brice (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums)

Track Listing: Future: 1. Future Drone 2. Panicballad 3. The Mirror 4. The Ticker 5. Two Days Ahead 6. Seven for Nothing 7. Rotten Strawberry 8. Ballad for Paul and Poo 9. Breaking a Vow

Personnel: Future: Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone); Achim Tang (bass) and Joe Hertenstein (drums)