Achim Escher

“an W. Lüdi”
veto-records 015

Mats Gustafsson

Torturing the Saxophone

Corbett vs, Dempsey CvsDCD012

Jean-Luc Petit

Matière des Souffles

Improvising Beings ib27

With improvisational freedom now time-honored more than half a century after the sonic parameters of Free Jazz and Free Music were first demarcated, the idea of a solo saxophone disc isn’t as transgressive as it was when Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker were initially breaching conventions. However the more liberal climate, at least in certain circles, also means that more reedists – young and old – are challenging themselves in this setting. Each of the discs here deals with a solo wind in a different fashion and each has something to offer.

Represented are three Europeans: Lucerne-based alto and baritone saxophonist Achim Escher; Swedish tenor and baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson; and French contrabass clarinetist and baritone saxophonist Jean-Luc Petit. Approaches are as varied as their locations. Recorded within two ancient churches, Matière des Souffles is a project that depends on the spatial qualities of the location to reflect Petit’s reed tones. Adding sounds from a music box or live electronics to his interpretation of Jazz standards, Gustafsson subverts the tunes as he honors them. Bravura bellowing is the stock-in-trade of Echer, who is aiming for the raw emotionalism of the late Werner Ludi, saluted in the album title, and by extension Peter Brötzmann.

Almost from the very first notes on “Abrasives Incursions”, the CD’s first track, Petit, who has worked with other sound explorers like bassist Benjamin Duboc and percussionist Mathias Pontévia, appears to be playing two reeds simultaneously. He isn’t of course; it’s just the intensity with which his trumpet-like flutters and altissimo overblowing bounce off the church walls. Moving between his two horns he occasionally resorts to propelling pure air through the body tubes(s), but in the main concentrates on rough tongue scrapping and slapping or guttural wild boar-like snorts, only opaque enough to allow partials to peep through. His dissonance takes many forms. On “Le Noir Et Le Goudron” for instance, bass clarinet fluttering appears almost electronically processed. However as soon as heated tones are swollen into bassoon-like thickness, he continues sniffing and snorting confirming acoustic properties. Overall, Petit’s concentrated multiphonics express power but not anger. “Vibratoires” for example moves from hard reed lowing to narrow altissimo timbres, all reflecting back from the location’s physical architecture. These sound waves circling and vibrating create distinctive split tones leading to the program’s most novel variations.

Gustafsson, known for his work with ensembles like The Thing and the Fire! Orchestra makes his variations the heart of this program as he deconstructs standards by the Ayler brothers, Duke Ellington and Lars Gullin. Being the most familiar it’s the Ellington tunes which receive the most radical reordering. While in the majority of cases the melody is hiding somewhere among electronic processing, it’s always secondary to the reedist’s oscillated improvisations. “Blue Goose” for example consists of clicking static and echoing outer-space-like noises, while “Come Sunday” becomes an exercise in tongue stops. Dentist-drill-like vibrations characterize “I Never Felt This Way Before” with taut multiphonics surrounding the theme which could have been strained through a food processor. As for “Sophisticated Lady”, its well-known melody appears – and promptly disappears into doubled vibrations and tongue slaps – played at half speed after Gustafsson vibrates rather than sounds phrases from his reed at the top of the selection. Music box tinkles add drawing room gentility which gives the Ayler compositions which are promptly invaded by strident pitches and snorting guffaws. Initially played tortoise-slow, the showpiece medley of “Angels/Spirits” – on baritone – concentrates its dissonant power as Gustafsson manages to create a second air stream that harmonizes alongside the first, although his reed bites make the parallel hums thicker yet more diffuse. By creating a sound that resembles Albert Ayler’s without exactly imitating him, Gustafsson plays up the simple gospel-infused background of the Ayler sound. Reworking Gullin’s “Danny Dream” on the other hand, the saxophonist unleashes a tsunami of pressurized tones, adding vocal yelps to chalumeau baritone saxophone slurps. By the finale, staccato peeps, masticating textures and air spurts are transparent enough to glimpse the Cool Jazz antecedents in the adaptation.

Werner Ludi was no Cool Jazzer, and approximations of some of his mercurial solo work on Escher’s 10 track-salute almost make Gustafsson’s reed-torturing appear restrained by comparison. Subterranean growls, watery gouts of sound and shrill banshee-like cries are Escher’s stock-in-trade, but the performances aren’t monolithic or unmovable. For instance “You Got a Date Wednesday Baby” is enlivened as a Balkan-like tarogato-like tone vibrates beside wet slurs, finally producing an affecting end product. Then “The No Balls Etude” advances with a form of circular breathing, but cathartically, as if the resulting forced screams illuminate darker emotions. Horizontal reed blowing and splattered tones feature in the recital as well, but the most impressive tracks are those when Escher tries out individualized strategies to his exposition. Beginning with stuttering burps,” 8763 Wonderland” concludes after the saxophonist has engendered new excitement pulling crow-like caws from the metal of his horn. “Are You That Fat One From The Airport” suggests weightiness as waddling key percussion and foghorn-like tones eventually give way to the aural result of a fanciful attempt to gain weight by swallowing the saxophone whole.

Obviously solo reed excursions still aren’t for every taste. But those who can hang on for these illustrations of what reed and reedists are capable of, may be amply surprised and fulsomely rewarded.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Lüdi: 1. The Black Lodge 2. Baby Fazzo 3. 8763 Wonderland 4. Thanks For Nothing Asshole 5. You Got A Date Wednesday Baby 6. How To Blow Anything Up In Ten Easy Lessons 7. Carla And Dylan 8. Are You That Fat One From The Airport 9. The No Balls Etude 10. Asking Nothing Leave Me Be

Personnel: Lüdi: Achim Escher (alto and baritone saxophones)

Track Listing: Torturing: 1. In A Sentimental Mood 2. I Never Felt This Way Before 3. Come Sunday 4. Blue Goose 5. Sophisticated Lady 6. Our Prayer 7. Angels/Spirits 8. Ghosts 9. Danny’s Dream

Personnel: Torturing: Mats Gustafsson (tenor or baritone saxophones with live electronics or music box)

Track Listing: Souffles: 1. Abrasives Incursions 2. Vibratoires 3. Le Noir Et Le Goudron 4. La Montagne Se Consume 5. Autre Cime, Autre Gisement

Personnel: Souffles: Jean-Luc Petit (contrabass clarinet and baritone saxophone)