Tomasz Dabrowski/Tyshawn Sorey Duo

Steps
ForTune 0005

Axel Dörner & Mark Sanders

Stonecipher

Fataka 5

Mikrokolektyw

Absent Minded

Delmark DE 5003

By Ken Waxman

Conflicting methodologies are at work on these distinctive trumpet-drums sessions. By limiting interaction to textures from only two instruments, improvisations are stripped down to be as pure as possible. Other impulses taint this purity though, when electronics from both players are added on Absent Minded and from Axel Dörner’s trumpet on Stonecipher. Steps however is completely acoustic, and the disk is better for it.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Polish band Mikrokolektyw is most committed to processing since Kuba Suchar is an electronics engineer as well as a percussionist. Thus juddering oscillations, slide whistle-like shrills, crackling static, and ring modulator gonging are heard alongside acoustic improvisations, giving the project a futuristic underpinning. Luckily to counter the processed sameness, Suchar frequently alters his percussion patterns to enliven tracks with rhythms that reflect ritualistic Asian gong strokes, Caribbean steel-drum pops or Native America tom-tom patterns. However there is a point during “Crazy Idea of Jakub S” that Suchar’s pulsing on drums and vibes suggests a visit from robotic Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton. But this analogy only works if when the’30s stars played with a trumpeter, he limited himself to flat-line grace notes. That’s the basic drawback of Absent Minded. Trumpeter Artur Majewski sticks to near-identical brass strategies no matter the tune. Evolving from mid-to-late-period Miles Davis and a clutch of Scandinavian brass stylists his fall-back sound is ethereal, flat-line blowing, with timbres echoing into the stratosphere. Occasionally his tone has the urbanity of Davis’ lyricism or infrequently highlights narrower tone squeezes but he rarely transcends the middle register. If an agitated siren is heard it’s more likely from signal processing than the horn man. The most exciting of the 13 tracks is “Little Warrior”, when Majewski rouses himself to flutter tonguing triplet extensions as Suchar clanks cymbals and smacks his toms, but the beat-heavy result comes across more like the Tijuana Brass attempting exotica than confirmed non-Western rhythms.

The processes are far different when German trumpeter Dörner hooks up with British percussionist Mark Sanders on Stonecipher. At points it’s difficult to distinguish which timbres should be attributed to whom, but that’s part of the quality of this disc. Deconstructing expected percussion and brass tones nearly to their atom state, and then reconstructing them with pointillist smears into a rewarding sound picture is the goal. While the journey is of paramount importance, unlike Mikrokolektyw, the duo’s improvisational strength is along the lines of “what-will-he-play-next?” not “didn’t-we-hear-that-before?” Throughout, Sanders measures out his contributions in dispassionate drum-top or cymbal reverberations, with every motion discreetly moving the tempo forward. Meanwhile Dörner puts to use the extended techniques he has developed through years of playing with everyone from John Butcher to Alexander von Schlippenbach. Piercing plunger timbres and basso grunts appear as if they’re sourced from deep inside the horn’s body tube without valve work, perhaps as the instrument is being taken apart. Often the results sound as if he’s pressing the bell against cheesecloth and sifting notes through it. His unfiltered collection of peeps snorts and static air is often so overwhelming that the few electronic buzzes and quivers complement rather than define the two performances. Perhaps because it’s half the length of the other, the second track is weightier and more rhythmically propelled than the first. There’s even a section near the finale where Sanders’ bass drum pummels and hard press rolls coupled with Dörner’s tongue-stopping cries and sprayed guttural tones reach such a peak of concentrated staccato excitement that the result edges punk rock. But understated drum smacks shepherd the tune to a calmer and more appropriate conclusion.

Unlike his countrymen in Mikrokolektyw, trumpeter Tomasz Dabrowski eschews plug-ins. His brass command and the percussion prestidigitation of NYC’s Tyshawn Sorey provide enough timbres. Powerful in his strokes, the drummer’s sophisticated patterns aid or highlight the trumpeter’s improvisations. Thoroughly grounded in the present, Dabrowski’s rounded open horn emphasis and Sorey’s clip-clopping swing still suggest post-modern Clifford Brown and Max Roach. In fact there are times such as on the swift “Song 10” and the lyrical “Song 1” that you can imagine the rest of a hard bop band playing with them. Not that there’s any hint of revivalism in the duo. If Dörner is a tone experimenter who plays trumpet, then Dabrowski is a trumpeter pure and simple. Darkening slurs, muted whines and wispy blows are part of his exposition on tunes like “Song 5” or “Song 3”, but the former finds him using a warm tone to underline the head; while on the second his thin tone becomes darker and more textured in response to the drummer’s extended press rolls. As moderate in his solos as he is centred as his playing, Sorey impresses by emphasizing his loose-limbed rhythm whether pummeling the beat or gently slapping parts of his kit.

Tracks: Stonecipher: Stonecipher I Stonecipher I; Stonecipher II

Personnel: Stonecipher: Axel Dörner, trumpet, electronics; Mark Sanders, drums, percussion

Tracks: Absent: Vacuum; Dream About Mind Master; Sonar Toy; Thistle Soup; Fossil Stairway; Dream About City Backyards; Trilobite; Trouble Spot; Superconductor; Crazy Idea of Jakub S.; Little Warrior; No Magic; Dream About the One

Personnel: Absent: Artur Majewski: trumpet, cornet, electronics; Kuba Suchar: drums, percussion, electronics

Tracks: Duo: Song 8; Song 4; Song 1 (Grayish); Song 7; Song 6; (Steps); Song 9 (Invited to Linger); Song 3; Song 5; Song 10 (Panicky Look); Song 2

Personnel: Duo: Tomasz Dąbrowski: trumpet, Balkan horn, mutes; Tyshawn Sorey: percussion

—For The New York City Jazz Record December2013