Sergio Merce

Microtonal Saxophone
Potlatch P114

Christian Kobi

r a w l i n e s

BDTA XIII

Ilia Belorukov

Tomsk 2012 04 20 Live

Intonmea Int 005/A 10

Aural tone essays rather than woodwind recitals, experimentation is embraced from the get-go as the three reed players here use preparations, pistons and pressure to create unexpected timbres from their horns. Brief and by no definition easy listening, the CDs maintain interest with a pre-conceived sense of dynamics and pacing.

Created by musicians from different countries, each project came about in a different way after varied experiences. A music teacher who has played Jazz and so-called Classical music, Italian alto saxophonist Sergio Merce developed his extended saxophone techniques as he worked throughout the continent with other sound explorers such as British guitarist Keith Rowe. Sounds are produced by his microtonal saxophone when he removes the instrument’s mechanisms and keys and replaces them with water, gas and compressed air taps. Coming from the New music side of the fence with postgraduate musical degrees, Swiss soprano and tenor saxophonist Christian Kobi’s r a w l i n e s is part of a trilogy of projects for solo saxophone and feedback. Meanwhile Russian alto saxophonist Ilia Belorukov moves among improvisation, Free Jazz, noise and electro-acoustic music. The sound extraction showcased on Tomsk 2012 04 20 Live are as concretely related to his multi-media experience in the theatre as to his experience playing with the other experimenters like Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs and Russian pianist Alexey Lapin.

Merce’s four variations are mostly concerned with delineating a spacious landscape of sound. Throughout, as he concentrates and enlarges his already sustained notes, the protracted multiphonics make it seem at points that other timbres are still present. Added to the horn’s floating flat lines are not only partials and other reed-based extensions, but also insinuations of organ-like tremolos, harmonica-like respirations and what could result from cymbal buffing. Appropriately concluded with packed, slightly upturned quivers, “Microtonal Variation III” is the most distinctive track. Alongside metal clanks and claps initial note clusters thicken and interface alongside controlling drone. Nonetheless, with each extension eventually isolated enough to be heard, the program is accommodating as well as atonal.

Dividing his 27-minute program into five tracks, Kobi’s output is more often than not so indistinct that ear straining can only vaguely make out the whispering reed outline. Seldom showcasing sensual multiphonics upfront, it’s momentary twitters, watery echoes and key clicks that can more often be distinguished; they then vanish as swiftly as they’re audible. Virtue here is related to the reedist producing variants on flat-line blowing. Expelling a single shrill whistle so that it’s enhanced with powerful panting makes an appropriate finale as air-tube like hisses turn back on the original vibration.

Maybe related to being performed live, Tomsk 2012 04 20 provides the most varied program here, with Belorukov’s prepared alto saxophonist extruding tones that range from thickly percussive to those with filament thinness. Moving away from microtonalism, the Saint Petersburg native adds wide-ranging effects to his solos. These include upper-register chirps, finger key pops, plus sounds that could be sourced from a chromatic harmonica or by brushing a drum head. Uniquely the near-silence of “Live2” comes across as the aural equivalent of a blurry photograph gradually coming into focus. Quivering tones and reed bubbles bond enough to create a mellow, near-romantic mid-section, with double-tonguing further solidified with buzzing mouthpiece smears.

Preceding audience applause, Belorukov turns the last track into a précis of all that has come before. Moving from staccato peeps to growling body tube echoes, the defining multiphonics combine a pan-pipe-like impressionism and harsh note propelling. Ending with passages in moderato contralto range, he could be a Swing Era saxophonist creating variations on a theme. Except in this case only he can hear the initial theme,

Each reed voyager here effectively confirms that there’s still plenty of scope left for solo saxophone explorations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: r a w l i n e s: 1. I 2. II 3. III 4. IV 5. V

Personnel: r a w l i n e s: Christian Kobi (soprano or tenor saxophone)

Track Listing: Microtonal: 1. Microtonal Variation I 2. Microtonal Variation II 3. Microtonal Variation III 4. Microtonal Variation IV

Personnel: Microtonal: Sergio Merce (alto saxophone)

Track Listing: Tomsk: 1. Live1 2. Live2 3. Live3

Personnel: Tomsk: Ilia Belorukov (alto saxophone and preparations)