Road Works
Percaso 28/29

Swiss saxophonist Christoph Gallio has always been interested in expanding his music beyond expected strictures. To this end he’s worked with vocalists, utilized poetry for lyrics and experimented with different formats such as LPs and DVDs. Now with Road Works, his second collaboration with artist Beat Streuli, he’s attained one of his artistic highpoints, composing a soundtrack for Streuli’s quick-moving films of what else? – highways, street and sidewalk scenes – that works equally well on its own on this CD.

Actually Gallio’s almost 49-minute composition consists of six dozen cues, sequences and themes lasting from less than 15 seconds to almost three minutes. Using intimations of other sorts of music, the blended together transitions are like film jump cuts, as if the shifts are being made with a super high-speed editing-machine, with little respite for the ear to adjust to a new sound before the next arrives.

To do a job such as this, the Baden-based alto and soprano saxophonist had to call on sympathetic associates, whose speedy reflexes are utilized as well. Most surprising of the collaborators is Berlin-based Andrea Neumann. Better-known for her inside-piano explorations, she does some of that here, but also showcases conventional piano tropes, ranging from burlesque hotel lounge melodies, pseudo-impressionistic and formal so-called classical themes and faux jazz. Also on hand are three Swiss musicians: Ernst Thoma, who uses the synthesizer’s signals and samples for the addition of unusual tones, which replicate sequences as different as those that come from the vibraphone at a late-night boite, to machine-driven radio waves; bassist Dominique Girod, who often works in a New music context; and drummer Julian Sartorius, whose expanded kit that can approximate, bongos and kettle drums as well as expected jazz-like rhythms, has been put to use by other leaders like pianist Colin Vallon and composer Rhys Chatham.

As the composition unrolls, so the musical references multiply. They include Cool Jazz sax lines and Klezmer melancholy; Power Pop back beats and a 1950s style Rock-a-Ballad theme played on the piano; electronic music static and oscillated undulations; outer-space like intimations and machine-like lathing sounds; and Africanized drum patterns. Plus there are also frequent and unexpected passages of frenzied amorphous timbres, mixed with exhilarating Aylerican sax splinters.

Trying to keep track of every variant is fruitless. Still Gallio is a sophisticated enough composer that none of the successive sequences appear shoehorned in or in opposition to the preceding and following lines.

Demonstrating that even Gallio is determined to remove the level of artifice associated with a composition like this that was commissioned by an arts council, the only audible phrases at two junctures are in English. “A sound is not what it seems” precedes a short episode of clanking drums, thumping bass and squeaky sax, immediately followed by so-called classical piano variants on that theme. Later what sounds like “massive big ick or could have been the disaster of the year” is repeated three times by what sounds like a teenage girl’s voice. More tellingly, preceded by a Bud Shank-like boppish alto solo and followed by a stiff military march from the pianist is a sequence where a female, pants inchoately and supposedly passionately à la Jane Birkin on “Je t’aime...”

A soundtrack for the eyes and ears, Road Works is a high quality diversion for all concerned, especially the audience. Who knows what Gallio will produce next? Perhaps not even him.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 00:22 2. 00:39 3. 01:06 4. 00:34 5. 00:21 6. 00:31 7. 00:21 8. 00:18 9. 00:15 10. 00:31 11. 01:44 12. 00:16 13. 00:52 14. 00:15 15. 00:37 16. 00:27 17. 00:27 18. 00:49 19. 00:20 20. 00:23 21. 00:32 22. 00:39 23. 00:55 24. 00:35 25. 00:48 26. 00:17 27. 00:36 28. 1:39 29. 0:15 30. 00:20 31. 00:19 32. 00:55 33. 00:23 34. 00:54 35. 01:50 36. 00:24 37. 00:19 38. 00:29 39. 00:21 40. 02:07 41. 01:33 42. 01:05 43. 00:13 44. 00:16 45. 00:54 46. 00:28 47. 00:33 48. 00:54 49. 00:42 50. 00:40 51. 00:52 52. 01:02 53. 00:45 54. 00:15 55. 01:00 56. 00:28 57. 00:35 58. 00:21 59. 01:00 60. 00:34 61. 00:29 62. 00:36 63. 00:22 64. 01:03 65. 00:27 66. 01:23 67. 00:19 68. 00:32 69. 00:47 70. 00:46 1 71. 01:19 72. 00:58

Personnel: Christoph Gallio (alto and soprano saxophones); Andrea Neumann (inside piano, mixer and piano); Ernst Thoma (synthesizer); Dominique Girod (bass); Julian Sartorius (drums) and Beat Streuli (visuals)