Wood, Wire & Sparks
Monotype Records mono LP014

A welcome return to recording after an unfortunate hiatus, British born, Australian-based violinist Jon Rose demonstrates here that his facility is undiminished. Plus the two live festival sessions which make up Wood, Wire & Sparks also confirm that after almost 40 years of recording, there’s no chance of the violinist involving himself in so-called conventional playing.

Like the title, the disc is a tripartite effort, uniting Rose with two improvising double bassists. Ironically the two, Clayton Thomas and Mike Majkowski are both Australians who have expatriated to Berlin. Majkowski often plays with saxophonist Frank-Paul Schubert among others, while Thomas has worked with everyone from saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet to percussionist Burhard Beins.

On the six tracks of this date, either one or both bull fiddlers regularly functions in the percussion role, with the other adding sympathetic asides to the others’ work. For his part Rose only takes the lead role with extended atonal techniques, but continues to ornament the theme even as it’s in the process of being created. Broadly, the title tune, which takes up the first LP side, establishes the trio’s parameters, while the remaining tracks enlarge on the three’s resourcefulness and ingenuity. The tune “Wood, Wire & Sparks” is actually in two parts, with the first built on bulky pedal-point strokes that slide and speed into a showcase of burbling intensity. As opposed to Rose’s sometime romantic interplay on the first section, the second is driven by staccato motions so spindly and quivering that it’s as if electronic pulses have been introduced to the mix. They haven’t of course, although there’s still a range of string-torque strategies and additions in use. These range from the slap of objects against the strings or jammed among them for maximum roughness as well as Rose’s piercing spiccato lines that unroll with such ferocity that it seems miraculous that a string doesn’t break.

Side two, recorded in a different location, serves as a catalogue of Strike’s collective improvisational skills. Sandpaper-like buzzes, resonating plucks and stopping scrubs from the basses confirm the forcefulness of “Gentrify This”, as the fiddler’s scratches and scrapes attempt to further fracture the line. In a different fashion the violinist introduces knife-sharpened, jagged string slices by the end of “Song”, penance perhaps for the harmonized and basically romantic lines with which he begins it. At that point it’s the dual bassists’ string stopping and wood smacking timbres which initially cut through the moderate narrative. But by the finale, to counter Rose’s newfound string potency, these sounds anchor the theme and keep the piece moving.

A high concept debut for Strike, this disc should satisfy adventurous string fanciers of all stripes. Plus considering it was recorded in 2010 though, imagine who much better the trio must sound today.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: A1. Wood, Wire & Sparks B1. Sweepstakes B2. Revenge of the Instrument B3. Gentrify This B4. Tsunami Scoreboard B5. Song

Personnel; Jon Rose (violins) and Clayton Thomas and Mike Majkowski (bass)