December 19, 2013
The Hillside Mechanisms
Babel Label BDV 120102
ILK 193 CD
As improvised music evolves, so do all the old rules as to what properly constitutes a Jazz comb. Recently stripped-down trios consisting of a brass player a drummer and a string player have come to the fore. But profundity only replaces novelty if there’s a long-simmering conception appended to the instrumentation
Take these two bands. Made up of three of the UK’s most accomplished improvisers, Vole evolved organically from ongoing session at Spanish drummer Javier Carmona’s London flat, and with his relocation to Barcelona has reconstituted as a working quartet, with The Hillside Mechanisms left as a trio-memory. Trumpeter Roland Ramadan has worked with everyone from drummer John Stevens to the London Improvisers Orchestra exploring his instrument’s sound possibilities, while Italian Roberto Sassi, who plays guitar and electronics here, has a history in so-called post-Rock as well as improvised music.
As international as the preceding unit, the Tom Trio is a showcase for the composing and playing of Tomasz Dabrowski. A Polish trumpeter and Balkan horn player, who now lives in Denmark, and has recorded with musicians ranging from pianist Jacob Anderskov to saxophonist Lotte Anker, Dabrowski felt it was time to have an album of his own, and recruited Scandinavians, bassist Nils Bo Davidsen and drummer Anders Mogensen to help.
Wishing does not make it so. While the CD bounces and swings at appropriate moments and there’s no faulting the musicianship; something is missing. Perhaps it’s that while Dabrowski tongue twists, gently puffs and flutter-tongues as a matter of course, his presentation isn’t strong enough to carry the CD without a front-line partner. By default the sparkplug roles fall to the bassist and drummer. With thick pumps and staccato pulsations, Bo Davidsen holds onto the beat, but he’s providing balance without much counterweight. Ditto for Mogensen, who has anchored many sessions in the past. Comfortable with tempos ranging from swing time to martial, his most imaginative contribution is producing distinctive glockenspiel-like scrapes on tunes such as “Cph Talk”.
Faced with moderato narratives like that, Dabrowski responds with appropriately gentling flutters and plunger whines. Unfortunately his notes are propelled in a similar fashion even if the creations are staccato or stop-time. This may be a personal style, but used identically from track to track robs it of novelty. Maybe he – and/or the trio – will better next time out.
Vole on the other hand is ready for prime time. From the CD’s first track it explodes into moderated excitement, as Rock-guitar riffs and drum pops define the exposition, which is then cemented by Ramanan’s fluttering vibrations. Unlike the Tom Trio, and despite having the same number of instruments, there isn’t the sense that something is missing in the mix. This may result from having a guitar rather than a bass in the string position. Plus the fact that Sassi’s electronics allow him to replicate either lead guitar or bass guitar timbres when needed.
Take “Slow Burn” for instance. Each part is perfectly balancing with the drummer’s steady patterning connecting with buzzing bass guitar lines. Rawer than similar tunes created in a similar style by the likes of Tim Berne, the trumpeting confirms his originality by elongating grace notes to better parallel Sassi’s defining string crunches. Not that everything on the CD is taken at such a frenetic pace though. Besides balladic interludes, a couple of compositions move into a distinctive space where atonality meets anthropology. For instance, “Improctober” displays its originality as the trumpeter’s barely-there breaths gradually meld with drum intonation and understated wah-wah pedal work from the guitarist, while the atmospheric “Improctober” recalls so-called contemporary classical music. “Before” – which in truth closes the program – features Ramanan expelling simple, wood-flute-like tones. The composition further impresses as it evolves from a trumpet tone poem backed by cascading wave forms and gong suggestions, before it attains the sort of shaking vibrations which characterized “No Knees”, the CD’s first track. Thus it effectively connects the date’s beginning and ending.
With Vole producing such a memorable debut, finding out whether four voles are as impressive as three may be a priority.
Track Listing: Hillside: 1. No Knees 2. Rampicanti 3. Slow Burn 4.Voiced Unvoiced 5. Improctober 6. Tim’s Frosties 7. At Times Their Skins Peel Off 8. Before
Personnel: Hillside: Roland Ramanan (trumpet); Roberto Sassi (guitar and electronics) and Javier Carmona (drums)
Track Listing: Tom: 1. 7 Days To Go 2.I'll Repeat Only Once 3.Cold Hands 4.Wave 5. Buzz-Wow 6. Triangle 7. After Jam 8. Cph Talk 9, European 46 10. This Way Up 11. Unison
Personnel: Tom: Tomasz Dabrowski (trumpet and Balkan horn); Nils Bo Davidsen (bass) and Anders Mogensen (drums)