The International Nothing

The Dark Side of Success
Ftarri Records 218

Der Lang Schatten

Der Lang Schatten

Lost Opportunities 001

Personification of duality, Dusseldorf-born clarinetist Michael Thieke has since the millennium been involved in two broad musical currents as he similarly divide his time between Berlin and Rome. Often in the forefront of abstract explorations of reed timbres with the likes of ppooll manipulator Christof Kurzmann and others, Thieke also spends part of his time in less atonal pursuits, such as playing saxes in the Charles Mingus-saluting Dok Wallach band.

The Dark Side of Success and Der Lang Schatten express this double identity. Third CD of his collaboration with fellow Teuton Kai Fagaschinski, the first disc consists of six unvarnished sonic essays that push clarinet properties from two, usually adjacent, but not harmonized instruments. Der Lang Schatten on the other hand, which unites Thieke with Italian bassist Antonio Borghini and Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik is a buoyant seven-track session which intentionally or not, references Jimmy Giuffre’s drum-less trios of the 1950s and 1960s.

With harmonies, rhythms and melody upfront, Thieke, Wiik and Borghini work through a program where quirky tunefulness and unexpected associations are the watchwords. In its taunt voicing and cycling solos, for instance, the introductory “Cynthia is Mistakenly Crowned King of Norway” could have come from the Carla Bley songbook. Unlike Giuffre’s Swing Era-learned melodiousness though, Thieke puts more of a bite into his solos as on “Chiara T” and “Murmansk”. The latter has a lot in common with contemporary notated, atonal sounds, especially when piano chording parallels the screeching air currents that are being leeched from the reedist. Chiara T”, another jerky and juddering line, “finds Thieke rappelling up the scale, initially a capella; Wiik cascading tones all over the keyboard; with Borghini’s drones holding everything together.

While Wiik’s playing can be inner-directed and echo the impressionistic overlay developed by the likes of Bill Evans; it isn’t wimpy or sentimental. At the same time, unvarying strums are also part of his repertoire as on “Müll”. Meeting the bassist’s sandpaper-like scrubs and the clarinetist’s bird-like puffing half-way Wiik provides the impetus that redirects the piece towards synchronization. Meanwhile on “Indignation”, the pianist’s notes ring from the keyboardist, the better to distinguish his contribution from Thieke’s chalumeau breath- stirring and the bassist’s terse breaks. Finally after it appears the parts have been broken into atoms, the three suture the isolated particles into a chromatic line.

The same sort of tone dispersion and deconstruction appears frequently on The International Nothing’s CD. But neither Thieke nor Fagaschinski toil to put the pieces back together again. Rather than harmonizing, the two mostly improvise in a parallel fashion, with solid, unwavering tones, often only distinguishable because of one playing at a higher pitch than the other. Overloaded staccato vibrations often reach a crescendo in such a manner that the note extensions smear molasses-like all over the sound field. These improvisations aren’t completely alienating however. For instance the vociferous tremolos that seem to be coagulating into a single, solid reed tone on “Deepwater Horizon” relax into individualized sweetness by the end creating mellow interaction.

More generic to the interface is a track such as “Lebensverlängernde Maßnahmen”, which translates as “Life-prolonging measures”. Here an initial high-pitched flock of angry bird-like counterpoint is eventually transformed into mid-range wave forms through the use of cunning patches of silence. Eventually once body-tube air expelling is matched with split-second timing, the resulting reed upturns create distinctive near harmonies. Crucially, on the following track, sardonically titled “Pop Music”, not only do swelling tongue slaps make it appear as if guitar tones have been introduced into the mix, but these flanges and twangs create a unique blustery sound which vibrates in-and-out of aural focus.

Those interested in charting the course of cutting-edge clarinet sounds in the 21st Century should seek out The Dark Side of Success, although neither the first adjective nor second noun may be a misnomer. Those interested in well-played, no-less-sophisticated, but less atonal music will be interested in Der Lang Schatten.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dark: 1. Empty Your Pockets 2. Beat ‘Em All 3. Deepwater Horizon 4. Lebensverlängernde Maßnahmen 5. Pop Music 6. Lost and Found and Lost Again

Personnel: Dark: Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke (clarinets)

Track Listing: Der: 1. Cynthia is Mistakenly Crowned King of Norway 2. Indignation 3. 29 4. Aporian Dreams 5. Müll 6. Chiara T 7. Murmansk

Personnel: Der: Michael Thieke (clarinet); Håvard Wiik (piano) and Antonio Borghini (bass)