September 21, 2014
Effectively disproving the turn of phrase while melding that twain that’s not supposed to meet, The East-West Collective produces an effective program of improvised music here. Humeurs calls on variants of both Occidental and Oriental musical traditions without pledging allegiance to either.
More significantly, since to distort another cliché: one person’s exotica is another person’s daily sound, the CD’s key is that neither the textures from the instruments in the western tradition: cello, saxophone and clarinet; nor those from the eastern side: koto and guzheng; are accepted as usually played. Each of the musicians adopts his or her instrument’s timbres in unexpected and complementary manners.
Not that any members of the East-West Collective are traditionalists in the first place. American tenor and sopranino saxophonist Larry Ochs, for instance, has long moved among contemporary and improvised musics in ROVA and his own bands. Cellist Didier Petit and clarinetist and bass clarinetist Sylvain Kassap, both French, follow similar paths with sonic travelers like drummer Baby Sommer and reedist Denis Colin. An American of Japanese background, Miya Masaoka is most commonly found matting her traditional koto with electronics or improvising with it in ensembles featuring musicians like Ochs. Meanwhile Chinese guzheng player Xu Fengxia frequently worked with western improvisers like the late bassist Peter Kowald.
With Petit and Fengxia adding gurgling yodels and other ephemeral vocal tones to the seven tracks, the possibilities for outright experimentation are also multiplied, with the emphasis always on the unexpected. “Wine” for instance which contrasts harsh widening slurs from the reeds with pointillist strokes from the massed strings reaches a climax when new commentary is isolated. Moving in front of the tongue slaps and ethnic string continuum is Petit, whose Slam Stewart-like humming parallels his cello strokes and sopranino saxophone puffs.
Demonstrating that there are more similarities than differences among sounds is “Road”, where the face-off between the guzheng and clarinet could come from a similar meeting of taragato and cimbalom. At the same time the interactions are undoubtedly contemporary as juddering horn lines are positioned beside spiny cello string sweeps.
The only tune that could be termed completely westernized is “By Any Other Name (for William Kentridge)”. It’s also the only non collective composition, but was instead written by Ochs in honor of the South African visual artist. In this case the call-and-response riffing, which eventually defines the piece, involves not only Ochs and Kassap but also Xu and Masaoka. Other references abound as well. The guzheng player hammers on her strings to create a percussive effect, while koto strokes echo with a pattern midway between gagaku and country guitar. Reaching a crescendo that adds vocal double talk and whinnying reed cries to the string expansion, the tune fades away with reflective echoes.
Although the ancients maintained that a dozen or more temperaments or humeurs were needed for a human to be well-adjusted, this ensemble find enough spirits from collective imagination to create a balanced and notable CD from five voices.
Track Listing: 1. Mountain 2. Wine 3. Humeur du Dessous 4. By Any Other Name (for William Kentridge) 5. Humeur de Terre 6. Road 7. Humeur de l’Espirit
Personnel: Sylvain Kassap (clarinet and bass clarinet); Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones); Miya Masaoka (koto); Xu Fengxia (guzheng and voice) and Didier Petit (cello and voice)