Clamshell Records CR 13

Joe Morris/Agustí Fernández/Nate Wooley

From the Discrete to the Particular

Relative Pitch RPR 008

After establishing himself as almost without question Spain’s most accomplished improvising pianist, Barcelona-based Agustí Fernández maintains an international career as well as a local one. These premium-quality trio discs, featuring completely divergent instrumentation, recorded about nine months apart demonstrate his interactive facility.

With the unique formation of two chordal instruments and one brass, From the Discrete to the Particular captures a New Haven gig matching the pianist with guitarist Joe Morris, with whom he has played frequently and newer collaborator trumpeter Nate Wooley. Brittle and somewhat disconcerting, the contrapuntal scrapes, buzzes and plucks easily inhabit the abstract Free Music sphere. Recorded the next year in Saint Pere de Vilaajor in Catalonia, Wry is a more ferocious program, reuniting Fernández, with drummer Ivo Sans, who with the pianist is one of the 11 members of the Free Art Ensemble, and adding Greek soprano saxophonist Ilan Manouach. Classic Free Jazz trios such as pianist Cecil Taylor’s with saxist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Sunny Murray are suggested here, except that Manouach’s tone is thinner, subtler and more wide-ranging than Lyons’; while Sans is more involved and less overbearing then Murray.

Stateside, while the program may be more rugged than discrete, the enthralling factor is following Fernández’s and Morris’ strategies. With the piano’s internal strings as frequently plucked and strummed as its keyboard is used, the guitarist’s harsh string rubs or abrasive twanging challenges or combines timbres with the other instrument. All the while it’s Fernández who maintains a judicious continuum, often wrenched from the piano’s lowest pitches. Meanwhile Wooley’s tart flutter tonguing darts among the string textures, adding a staccato kick to expand the narrative. Frequently, as on a track such as “Membrane”, circling brass growls soon create a theme parallel to the others’ stopped and strummed melody showdown.

Crucially the chordal players also demonstrate that their versatility moves past the expected higher-pitched expressions to equal use of their instruments’ lower tones. Morris, for instance, who has for the past few years been dividing his time between gigs on guitar and double bass, brings some bull fiddle-like thickset stops to his atonal guitar work. Appropriately it’s used at times to toughen Fernández’s nervy hunt-and-peck outflow. The pianist’s extended string strategies aren’t limited either. “Chums of Chance” owes its appeal to triple counterpoint which is corrosive, but ultimately harmonized. Morris’ apparent use of a bow on his strings produces staccato ratchets which join Wooley’s nearly inaudible slurs to up the tension, while Fernández’s juddering ultimately draws the parts together.

On tunes such as “Hieratic” on the other hand, Fernández mines the piano’s deepest tones to showcasing the instrument’s darker colors. When that’s established – and triumphantly compared with Wooley’s darting higher-pitched smears – the pianist and guitarist spend the rest of the track outlining how many plucks, pops, scratches, rubs and hammerings can be refracted from strings; maintaining pressurized ferment without losing the thematic threads.

No less linked in tripartite creation, the Spanish concert features different starting points and strictures. Dealing with the history implicit in a sax-piano-drums set up, the nine improvisations are as portentously stimulating, while more regularly rhythmic, than those on the other CD. Sans is no ponderous time-keeper, but the mere presence of a percussion beat defines the bottom, leaving the others free to create novel solo strategies. For instance Fernández spends more time worrying the capotes, wound strings and bottom boards of the piano, while making proper statements from rattles and clatters. For his part Manouach uses peeps, whistles and impelled split tones, often meeting the drummer at a point where loosening a head’s lugs, flapping a cymbal or emphasizing a nerve beat perfectly complements reed tones. Flirting with pinched stridency, in the main, Manouach skill on a track like “64-70” is such that he can also emphasize the soprano’s delicacy. Subsequently Fernández sympathetically plucks inner strings as if the two were part of a harp-and-flute chamber ensemble.

Key track on the date, “36-42” shoves many Free Jazz shibboleths to one side to create a track pastorally measured, but with enough freedom to propel excitement. With Fernández’s low-pitched tremolo chording adding to the vibrating tension along with Sans’ intermittent pops and bangs, Manouach suggests, than resolves, a fascinating line that is continuously breathed from the highest pitches of his horn, but never sounds forced or shrill.

Here are two instances to sample Fernández’s evolving art in diminutive but equally congenial circumstances. Your choice may depend on instrumental preferences.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Discrete: 1. Automatos 2. As Expected 3. Bilocation 4. Hieratic 5. Membrane 6. That Mountain 7. Chums of Chance

Personnel: Discrete: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Agustí Fernández (piano) and Joe Morris (guitar)

Track Listing: Wry: 1. 120-126 2. 43-49 3. 78-84 4. 36-42 5. 92-98 6. 64-70 7. 127-133 8. 71-77 9. 29-35

Personnel: Wry: Ilan Manouach (soprano saxophone); Agustí Fernández (piano) and Ivo Sans (drums)