Hidden Forces Trio

Crows Are Council
Knocktuurne Records KTR 010

Tejero/Serrato/Díaz

Sputnik Trio

Raw Tonk Records RT006

Searching for – and mostly finding – the sweet spot where Metal and Free Jazz meet are these two Spanish trios; yet such are the variations even within so narrow a genre that featuring a different reedist means that each combo establishes a singular identity.

Common to both bands are bass player Marco Serrato and drummer Borja Díaz, who together are the rhythm section of Metal cult band Orthodox, as well as playing in other punk-drone bands. Helping the Sputnik Trio blast off is Ricardo Tejero, who plays tenor saxophone, clarinet, microphone and feedback. Madrid-born and United Kingdom-based, he has played in aggregations like London Improvisers Orchestra and bassist Dominic Lash’s quartet. His go-for-broke, high-intensity improvising puts most of the CD’s 13 tracks in the trajectory defined by Albert Ayler and (late) John Coltrane on one hand and Peter Brötzmann and Charles Gayle on the other. Paradoxically however, Gustavo Domínguez, who joins Serrato and Díaz to make up the Hidden Forces Trio, has been an Orthodox collaborator since 2006. Yet at the same time the classically trained Seville-based clarinetist plays in orchestral and other New music settings. If Tejero turns his trio towards Trane territory, then Domínguez demonstrates a drift into (Eric) Dolphy land, with his subtleties in style also referencing other clarinetists such as John Carter and numerous Europeans who straddle the notated/improvised music border.

What this means is that Crows Are Council’s six tracks, besides being lengthier than most of the Sputnik Trio’s bite-size explosions, are also allied to the chamber Jazz tradition. From the first and title track, the trio works out a gliding, moderato approach that consistently inflates the themes from Domínguez’s slurping staccato tones with complementary double bass string scrubs and unflappable plops from the drummer. Spiraling out swift spidery connections the undulating narrative highlights but eventually subsumes staccato impulses including clarinet slurps, slaps and peeps. This blending of opposites continues throughout the disc, with melodious romps trading places with harsh abstractions and mellow chromaticism succeeded by pointed and speedy attacks.

A tune such as “El ejecutor” for instance, relaxes from abstract flutter-tonguing and angled spiccato sweeps into final sequence of drum-led swing rhythms with cabaret overtones. “Gĉod”, is the most striking, though murky track. Here the reedist’s circular blowing vibrates a continuum with his didgeridoo joined by harmonic reverberations that arise from Serrato’s alternating pressure on the bass strings plus Diaz creating cymbal slashes and vibrations that resemble Oriental religious music. In complete contrast is the concluding “Tender Fisting Blues”, a crashing, screaming free-for-all where strident altissimo reed bites, power chording from the bassist and the drummer’s expansive smashing aim for the ultimate Metal-Free Jazz blend.

This intermingling is attained throughout the Sputnik three’s CD, with almost every track bristling with aggressiveness and exaggeration. At the same time, over-the-top doesn’t mean overdone. Tejero, Serrato and Díaz bring affiliations as well as abrasions to their music. If there are drawbacks it’s in the brevity of some of the tracks – many barely scrape past the two-minute limit – with the result that promising ideas are stunted before they reach full growth. As a display of individual skill they’re OK, as coherent stories they’re less so.

More notable are the sequences on which everyone has a chance to stretch out. At almost six minutes “Dire Threat” is more promise than menace, demonstrating the trio’s adaptability. While Tejero’s spluttering reed crackling and Díaz’s staccato and primitivist door-knocking thumps may be firmly in the Trane/Elvin Jones-Ayler/Sunny Murray axis, Serrato’s sprinting, spiccato bass line not only set out an unfazed singular path, but his parallel asides keep the piece moving horizontally. Diaz’s bell-pealing, tree-sawing slashes from Serrato and wiggling irregular blows from the saxophonist give “Bois Caïman” its heart-pounding rawness. Yet sardonically, or perhaps inadvertently, insinuations of the melody of “Wipeout” produce some levity as well. Confirming the trio’s dual nature, “Grave for a Dog/Lunar Womb” appears as if it wants to be one of those spiritual, late-period Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders meditations once Tejero’s lonely drone is heard. But religiosity gives way to rhythm after Diaz begins pounding percussion and Serrato loudly vibrates his taut strings.

More crucially with “Underground Whisper” Tejero concisely demonstrates that he can produce a notable exposition by himself, judiciously elongating split tones with feedback, but never shattering them completely. Finally his tongue-rolling clarinet timbres on “Magma Hurlant” brings the same strength to his interaction with staccato string pumps and rim shot accents that enlivens the concluding “Capricorn”. With Tejero back on saxophone the resulting pumping stops, drum clatters and reed slurs parallel and refer back to “Rag from Mars” which began the set.

Besides showcasing an unbeatable bass-and-drums team, these sets confirm that adventurous improvised music can arise from the most unexpected situations – even from those outside the Jazz tradition.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Crows: 1. Invocation – Crows are Council 2. Chalybs 3. El ejecutor 4. Thimble Capp 5. Gĉod 6. Tender Fisting Blues

Personnel: Crows: Gustavo Domínguez (clarinet, bass clarinet and didgeridoo); Marco Serrato (bass) and Borja Díaz (drums)

Track Listing: Sputnik: 1. Rag from Mars 2. Gula Geten 3. Bois Caïman 4. Saturna 5. Grave for a Dog/Lunar Womb 6. Copra 7. Ursa Major 8. Dire Threat 9. Le Garage Hermétique 10. La Máquina Preñada 11. Underground Whisper 12. Magma Hurlant 13. Capricorn

Personnel: Sputnik: Ricardo Tejero (tenor saxophone, clarinet, microphone and feedback); Marco Serrato (bass) and Borja Díaz (drums)