Yoni Kretzmer/Pascal Niggenkemper/Weasel Walter

Protest Music
OutNow Recordings ONR 017

Baloni

Belleke

Clean Feed CF 305 CD

Musical terrorists in the best sense, these two trios may frighten some by how they deconstruct and reorganize their themes and improvisations. Besides realizing that one person’s definition of a terrorist is another’s characterization of a freedom fighter, each band defines free music in a different fashion.

One could say that in conception and instrumentation Baloni plays European-influenced free music and the other trio, American-oriented experimental sounds. However both ensembles are anchored by the string sophistication of French-German double bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. Also while Protest Music may fit in with the genre of go-for-broke improv pioneered by the likes of Cleveland’s Albert Ayler, only one member of that trio is American-born. Drummer Weasel Walter whose percussion navigation buoys from the harshest reaches of Black Metal to the rough subtleties of Free Jazz is a Chicago-area native. Tenor saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer is an Israeli transplanted to Brooklyn. Meanwhile Niggenkemper’s Baloni colleagues are European – French violist Frantz Loriot and Belgian multi-reedist Joachim Badenhorst. Overall, just as committed democracy movements can reach for similar goals by following radically different paths, Belleke’s sonic textures may differ widely from those heard on Protest Music. But each offers a suitable strong program.

Taking at face value that this is the first time Kretzmer, Niggenkemper and Walter have recorded together, they impressively function as crucial interlocking parts of a sonic edifice. Besides the glue-like symmetry however, these wild-and-wooly improvisations are organized in such a way to give ample solo showcases for each. The final “Together” for example clears out enough of the track’s sound-real estate so that the bassist has enough space to express his thumping tremolo and multiphonic techniques. Another emphasized point is how the drummer’s fluid bumps and grinds plus connective cymbal pressure make his presence felt throughout. In contrast the saxophonist asserts himself through a surprisingly poised and gentle tone. Furthermore, bellicosity and bombast don’t dominate every track. Part of Walter’s honed skill is put into boldest relief on “First”, for instance. Here he demonstrates conclusively that power pumping can imaginatively meld with considered string thrusts to move the proceedings forward.

Firmly committed to power-pumping himself, Kretzmer may specialize in emotional reflux that make it seem as if he’s shattering his instrument honk by honk, but he can also use overblowing in more varied situations. For example sizzling nasal snorts initially define his role on “Album”, but supportive reed textures are soon layered alongside walking bass lines and drum rolls to balance the exposition. More amazingly still, Kretzmer manages to assimilate vibrating spit tones and pressurized vibrations from his saxophone to the bassist’s steady pacing so that a tune like “Very” appears to be taken moderato. And while the saxophonist is capable of aggressively marking his territory by parlaying retching tongue slaps into jagged snarls, he can work those reed bites down to a less pressurized mode as he does on “Our” and elsewhere outline other tunes with barely-there puffs.

Although he too plays tenor saxophone, Badenhorst concentrates most of his improvisations on Belleke to his command of clarinet and bass clarinet textures. Like Kretzmer’s output though, this doesn’t cause limitations. A track such as “Turning Inwards, Like a Glove” for instance, ends up being a showpiece for low-pitched guttural textures that are then subtly challenged by strident viola and rubbed bass strings. When earlier on, “Building Nothing out of Something” finds Badenhorst skillfully emphasizing his points with foreshortened whistles, the connections still exist since the timbres are almost indistinguishable from Loriot’s fiddle-stropping.

Because of the instrumentation there is no shortage of chamber-music insinuations on Belleke, but those warm, binding narratives are only one aspect of the band’s game plan. Elsewhere the themes can be as ragged and menacing as if played by New Thing behemoths. More often than not however, both approaches are utilized, often on the same track. “Forgetting”, for instance has a mid-section rife with dog-whistle-elevated tonguing, is surrounded by an introduction that moves as slowly as if being played by a chamber trio, and ends with tonic and tonal asides from the strings. “Heaving Hearts” on the other hand finds Niggenkemper constructing an appropriately scratchy picking motif for what is evidentially Loriot holding his instrumental horizontally and smacking the strings percussively with mallets. Furthermore “What Grows Beneath”, the lengthiest track, finds each trio member outputting timbres more dissident and strident than the next. Here too the bassist’s elongated drones and striking stops are what connects with Badenhorst’s sympathetically animated saxophone lines as the violist’s splintered screech and sul ponticello strokes are shoved aside.

Constantly injecting a variant of walking bass lines into the most abstract and other-worldly tunes Niggenkemper’s rhythmic solidity helps prevent the narratives from becoming too abstract. Furthermore when these abstract sequences appear, they’re successfully integrated into wider harmonies so that a comprehensive totality enlivens the session.

Not only do these CDs demonstrate that more than one strategy can create memorable improvisations, but also that Niggenkemper’s skills makes his work uniquely valuable in both situations.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Protest: 1. This 2. Is 3. Our 4. Very 5. First 6. Album 7. Together

Personnel: Protest: Yoni Kretzmer (tenor saxophone); Pascal Niggenkemper (bass) and Weasel Walter (drums)

Track Listing: Belleke: 1. Belleke 2. Building Nothing out of Something 3. Mon Seul Désir 4. Feuertreppe 5. Turning Inwards, Like a Glove 6. Heaving Hearts 7. Forgetting 8. Casse Méditative 9. Snowflakes 10. What Grows Beneath

Personnel: Belleke: Frantz Loriot (viola); Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone) and Pascal Niggenkemper (bass)