Barrel

Live at Artacts 12
Idyllic Noise IDNO 009

Gianni Mimmo/Alison Blunt

Lasting Ephemerals

Amirani Records AMRN #037-LP1

Playing violin in a Free Music context calls for a certain mindset and set of novel perceptions that are unlike those in so-called classical music or Jazz. While rejecting the enforced prettiness of much popular notated music, a thematic hook has to be there, especially when the fiddler is involved in a non-solo situation. Plus, while eschewing swing for its own sake, the improvisations still have to include motion enough to propel the sounds forward to a coherent stopping point.

Kenyan-born, London-based violinist Alison Blunt, a veteran of experimental confluence with ensembles ranging up to orchestral size, explores these concepts in duo and trio form here. Generic to both programs is a redefinition of staccato techniques. Certainly she and the two other London-based member of the Barrel trio, scratch, slide and scrape so many discordant swells from their 12 strings that those who prefer sweeter tones may regard Live at Artacts 12 as an aural trip wire aimed at upsetting them.

Violinist/violist Ivor Kallin and cellist Hannah Marshall, who are also involved in Free playing with small and large ensembles, including the London Improvisers Orchestra, organize their staccato pacing with Blunt so that Barrel’s performance has an internal logic. The trio is also disarmingly communicative, with some close stropping used for humorous effect and Kallin, especially, wont to let loose with this-side-of daft vocalizing. With the fingerboards, wood finish and tuning scrolls as involved as popping strings in this paroxysm of atonal tones, Kallin’s pseudo-operatic vocals, occasionally doubled by parallel female emulations, adds a needed human element to the corrosive playing. Galloping by at a racetrack pace, the three-part tremolo cooperation frequently reaches measured crescendos. At that point, one of the trio members propels the narrative forward while angled slices from the others scratch out theme variations. By the final sequence verbal interjections have turned to whistles and expressive cries until the track reaches a climax of near-mellowness, only to slide into a forceful wood-wrenching and string-buzzing coda of herky-jerky swats as a nose-thumbing finale.

As temperate soprano saxophone trills meet measured glissandi, at first it appears that the duo of Blunt and Pavia-native reedist Gianni Mimmo is going to aim for the tranquil architecture of contemporary chamber music rather than the building-site chaos of contrapuntal improvising. That idea is soon negated with the speed of a bulldozer knocking down an older dwelling. With “Lasting Ephemerals”, the introductory, title and longest track proving the code for their interaction the piece is soon segmented into spiky and spiccato string-and-bow pops from the violinist and buzzing multiphonics and split tones from the saxophonist. No stranger to experimental sounds, Mimmo has collaborated with the likes of vocalist Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, percussionist Gino Robair in the past.

On this track and throughout however, as with Barrel’s strategy, neither the saxophone reed bites nor the violinist extended techniques ever allow the instant compositions to dissolve into atonality. For every split tone or sul ponticello run crated there’s an equal number of chromatic timbres from one or the other that organically pace the ongoing narrative. In effect even a track such as “Elliptical Birds” where the duo’s intertwined buzzing ascends to a cornucopia of piercing aviary-like textures; sweetened sequences preserve the exposition among the string sprawls and reed multiphonics

Despite the joking oxymoron with which this session is titled, the skill of Blunt and her associates on both discs substantiates the value of and excitement engendered from string-centred Free Music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. if it could speak, it would sound no different 2. three drumlie taistealaichean

Personnel: Live: Alison Blunt (violin); Ivor Kallin (violin and viola) and Hannah Marshall (cello)

Track Listing: Lasting: 1. Lasting Ephemeral 2. Elliptical Birds 3. Scherzo

Personnel: Lasting: Gianni Mimmo (soprano saxophone) and Alison Blunt (violin)