Rara Avis

Mutations/Multicellulars Mutations
den Records dEN 015

Having insinuated himself in many variants of improvised music, mostly with fellow Americans and Northern Europeans, Chicago-based saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark travels south to Italy for new collaborations more involved with electronics.

Now one of Vandermark’s myriad of working groups, Rara Avis is a two reeds-three rhythm aggregation, with many of the tracks here built around the discordant textures sourced from the reel-to-reel tape recorder and instant sound treatments of band member and one-named SEC. The result is ruggedly in-your-face, but faltering at the same time, as if they five hadn’t yet worked out the proper proportions of Jazz, improv, electonica and Rock inflections to create a winning recipe. Together though, they have enough experience and enthusiasm to get the job done.

Besides the pseudonymous SEC, the other players have discernible experience in many scenes. Novara-based Stefano Ferrian, who plays soprano and tenor saxophones, complementing Vandermark’s baritone and tenor saxophones plus Bb clarinet, has not only played with improvisers like saxophonist Sabir Mateen, but also leads the avant-core band Psychofagist. Milan-based pianist Simone Quatrana works with Ferrian in the band Nutimbre as well as playing with jazzers; while bassist Luca Pissavini’s associates run the gamut from ProgRockers to singer-songwriters. The program evolves over two CDs, with the essence contained in the first. The second, briefer one is given over in the main to Vandermark.

By the second track on the first CD however, the band has worked up quite a head of steam with splashes of electronics quivering alongside crunching piano dynamics and bull fiddle thumps. Facing SEC’s processed animal and insect oscillations that come to the surface then crumble away, as both saxophonists operate at full blast. Until more lyrical comping from Quatrana regularizes the narrative, reed processions and decorations are most prominent. That strategy describes most of that disc, with a couple of tracks standing out as the quintet varies its interface.

“Natural Selection” for instance is characterized by Vandermark’s outstanding baritone playing that moulds chunks of broad rumbles plus altissimo deviations into a steadying ostinato, leaving the contrasting theme statement to Ferrian. Before the tune culminates with the reedists fitting tongue flutters and screeches into a connective pattern, string plucking resonations from the pianist plus synthesized textures which resemble small animals scurrying across a hard floor enliven the piece without disrupting its flow. A feature that sets up Vandermark’s narrow clarinet tongue-stopping with processed gurgles and oscillations, “Gene Flow” appropriately delineates Rara Avis’ acoustic vs. electronic boundaries. In a similar fashion Ferrian and Quatrana demonstrate an equivalent tension between acoustic instruments, with the piano’s sparse, near flowery cadenzas ruptured by reed bites and tongue stops.

Of the duet and one trio selections on the other CD, a similar showdown is most prominent on “KM”. In the most apparent instance of SEC’s skills, Vandermark’s near-circular-breathed tone fragments supersede the droning tape actions, eventually constructing an approach that contrasts his own playing with SEC’s live processing of previously played sax timbres.

Another indication of Vandermark’s versatility and how Italian players can hold their own in international company Mutations/Multicellulars Mutations is a fine beginning effort that calls out for further explorations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD 1: 1. Adaption 2. Genetic Drift 3. Gene Flow 4. Mutation 5. Natural Selection 6. Speciation CD 2: 1. KS 2. KSM 3. KM 4. KLS 5. SLM 6. SK

Personnel: Stefano Ferrian (soprano and tenor saxophones); Ken Vandermark (baritone and tenor saxophones, Bb clarinet); Simone Quatrana (piano); Luca Pissavini (bass) and SEC (Revox tape recorder and instant sound treatment)