Sudo Quartet

Live at Banlieue Bleue
No Business Records NBCD 51


Being Human

Babel BDV 13116

Unusual instrumentation and an inferred concept of what constitutes Free Music create unique experiences from each of these CDs despite approximate instrumental correlation. Committed to bare-bones, uncompromising improvisation are the members of the Sudo Quartet, a multi-national crew made up of continental stylists who have played free sounds almost from the time of its birth. More closely affiliated with close-ended compositions are the four humans in Human, who also represent some of the most advanced youngish improvisers in the British Isles. Still, each session can be enjoyed on its own merits.

Foremost among the genre-definers on Live at Banlieue Bleue are French bassist Joëlle Léandre and Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro, who for the past three decades have worked with the cream of avant-oriented players, in solo, duo or other groupings. German drummer Paul Lovens, best-known for his membership in the Schlippenbach trio, and Italian trombonist

Sebi Tramontana, a charter member of the Italian Instabile Orchestra, frequently assists Léandre in creating provocative concerts, and this five-track improv is no exception.

Coming from a more formal perspective are the members of Human, whose CD consists of four compositions by Irish drummer Stephen Davis, who works frequently with pianist Matthew Bourne. The other player are all British: pianist Alexander Hawkins, who has a regular affiliation with drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo among others; trumpeter Alex Bonney, involved with a variety of London-based bands; and violinist Dylan Bates, who also leads the Waiting on Dwarfs septet.

Although unlike the Sudo Quartet’s aleatoric sounds, Davis’ creations are initially written out, the band spectacularly displays contrapuntal cohesion on “Cartagena”. Built on its composer’s smacks and backbeat, plus rolling arpeggios from the pianist, the up-tempo piece is defined by jagged cacophony from the trumpeter and violinist, until Bonney’s arching triplets are spelled by Bates’ staccato scrubs. Before the piece concludes with tap-dance-like finesse from the drummer and hoedown intimations from the fiddler, Hawkins solo demonstrates how a walking bass line relates as much to Bop as Boogie Woogie, adding a plethora of colors to the narrative.

Two of the other tracks are group improvisations, with “I Am a Planet” most noticeable for Bonney’s obtuse triplet that become more angular as they rise, plus the face-off between drum pitter-patter and cascading piano harmonies. This also allows Hawkins to introduce affiliated chords and configure his lines so startling phrases tumble onwards. Subtly colored theme extensions characterize the pianist’s work on the title track as the trumpeter buzzes triplets and accents capillary advances.

All isn’t kinetic and frenetic on Being Human however. The nearly six-minute “Little Particles” indicates that sensitive harmonies can arise from the congruence of instruments. Slow paced, the significance of the tune lies in marking the unfolding balance between Bates’ plucked timbres and Bonney’s Nordic-sounding muted textures.

With a particularly volatile personage as Léandre on board, the Sudo Quartet is anything but calm and meditative. Anytime the group improvisations threaten to wind down for instance, the bassist’s fiery double-quick stopping is joined by Tramontana’s octave-leaping vibrations and rhino-like lowing; Zingaro’s extended sul ponticello lines; plus drumstick-on-cymbal scrapes, gong resonation and pumps from Lovens. Earlier, in spite of a few affable lilts from the violinist, the polyphonic outputs is more-or-less divided among growling trombone work, staccato fiddle swipes and measured clatter from the drummer as Léandre’s woody slaps and walking as well as well as the occasional verbal moans and cries dominate the proceedings.

Open-ended and lengthier than any other track, “Sudo 1” sets the stage for this free-form multiphonic expansion. Rustling and plucking her strings, plus adding unexpected slides, the bassist encourages tandem counterpoint with the violinist’s jagged sweeps, with trombone tongue-stopping commenting on the eight-string juddering. As Zingaro’s lines become more agitated leading to flying spiccato, Léandre ups the intensity ante with off-side vocalizing, ranging from pseudo-Bebop scatting to guttural throat explorations and bel canto yodeling. Eventually as the string interface begins to resemble that of a string quartet gone berserk, amplified with whale-like snorts from Tramontana. Eventually, Lovens’ repeated sounding of a single small gong signals the finale.

Similar instrumental blending, but contradictory thematic and performance aims, divides the Sudo Quartet from Human. But with equally comprehensive programs each approach is equally valid – and enjoyable.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Sudo 1 2. Sudo 2 3. Sudo 3 4. Sudo 4 5. Sudo 5

Personnel: Live: Sebi Tramontana (trombone); Carlos Zingaro (violin); Joëlle Léandre (bass) and Paul Lovens (drums)

Track Listing: Being: 1. Frozen Goat 2. Being Human 3. Little Particles 4. I Am a Planet 5. Cartagena 6. Vinilla Life

Personnel: Being: Alex Bonney (trumpet); Dylan Bates (violin); Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Stephen Davis (drums)