July 1, 2015
Return, serene Skoarkki
Konvoj Records KOPR 004
Everybody Digs Michael Doneda
Relative Pitch Records RPR 1027
Bass Clarinet Solos
GOD Records 29
No longer and oddity, but a legitimate means of expression, solo reed excursions often mark an index point in an improviser’s career, demonstrating his or her facility on the horn(s). Aiming for the furthest reaches of reed playing display, each of these CDs helps stretch the definition of how much can be accomplished by a solo player.
Although Erfolg is only his second solo efforts, Swiss saxophonist/clarinetist Hans Koch is the senior player here, best-known for his work with Barry Guy’s ensemble and as one third of Koch-Schütz-Studer. Slightly younger French soprano saxophonist Michael Doneda has explored many sorts of experimental music on his own and with partners like percussionist Lê Quan Ninh. A member of the Vegetable Orchestra and other aggregations, Vienna-based clarinetist Susanna Gartmayer confirms her solo versatility on her brief CD; while the tracks on the disc by Swedish saxophonist Ola Paulson, who leads the Konvoj Ensemble, were inspired by mountain trekking.
Despite the exterior references Return, serene Skoarkki retains as studio feel along with the other discs, with the exception of Everybody Digs Michael Doneda. Recorded in a Romanesque stone chapel in Tanus, France, Doneda’s seven improvisations reflect the geography of the site. An old hand at projects like this, the saxophonist’s spatial smarts allow his sometime flat-line vibrations to ricochet off the stone walls often creating a parallel line and at points sounding as if sound shards are sharp enough to dig beneath the masonry. As he moves around the site, Doneda’s curlicue vibrations expand, contract and oscillate, producing additional wave forms, finally widening on the final “Après canal” with grit as thick as that which has accumulated on the walls.
On the way he works out other strategies such as first thickening his mid-range line on “Canal” so it moves from moderato snarls and pulls to canine yelps and bites; or by constricting his output to such an extent that it seems as if he’s playing through the striations of a human colon. The extent of his air tube-like control is best demonstrated on “Avant canal” however. Here ghost town-like tumbleweed wisps turn to juddering gurgles. But the final power surge makes it seem as if he’s breathing in as much air as he’s expelling.
Besides being more internally oriented than Doneda’s explorations, Paulson’s alto and baritone saxophone timbres are not only more tonal, but also more obviously saxophone-like. Also unlike Doneda there’s never a question that Paulson is playing a reed instrument. Crucially, the shape of his sometime euphonious timbres depends on which instrument he’s playing. With or without preparations his alto work is often subdivided among shaking vibrations, circular breathing and deep thrust tongue slaps. On baritone, on tracks such as “Cease, Silent Love” or “I Just Came to Tell You to Tell Lesley. Will You”, lulling low pitches are played off against tarter upper register forays eventually swelling into cascading waves that expand the selections’ colors and textures. Contradicting its title “The Fog” is actually the CD’s most fully realized piece. Constantly exposing one phrase and then repeating it in an arrhythmic manner, Paulson births a staccato ear wig that bores into aural consciousness.
Preparations in terms of feedback and overdubs are also in use on Erfolg. But except for track that could split the inner ear, Koch manages to utilize feedback in different ways. “Feedback II” resembles a concentrated flute vibration; “Feedback III” introduces two parallel and separate lines; while “Feedback IV” takes the process one step further as a moderated timbre gradually lacerates the initial solid state density. “Whizzing” is more profound, since the strident drone that begins the track quickly segments into shrill growls and staccato lip bubbling that contrast with one another as they subside. Overdubbing is put to its best use on “Multi” with its giveaway title. As if arriving on a conveyer belt, each timbre is added to the next until the overlapping connections swell to take up all the aural space. Each time the tremolo blanket almost fades away it reanimates, doubled and tripled in intensity. At the same time Koch’s artistry also confirms that sonic supplements aren’t mandatory. “Overtone” for example is almost 10 minutes of creating tumescent baritone saxophone loops seemingly without pausing for breath, that fuse into an impenetrable tonal mass. Plus “Sink” doesn’t sink as much as resemble the field recording of a flock of birds.
However unlike Paulson’s mellowness or Doneda’s spatial rearrangements, the veteran reedist’s most memorable statements are those violent and spiky ones like “Inside”, “Slap” and “Bow”. From the mouth bumps and cavity expansions meeting key slaps on the first to the scrape and crunch of metal against metal on the last, Koch demonstrates that reed coloration is available outside as well as inside the saxophone. As external key slapping duplicates an entire percussion section on “Slap”, Koch blows horizontally across his reed and works his mouth into puffs and chomps to accompany and amplify the program. The result suggests the peculiar beauty of captured raw violence.
Gartmayer too doesn’t shy away from violent expressiveness on her seven brief tracks. Heightened excitement comes through most plainly on “I” though where her whiplash intensity via tongue slaps and key percussion could be mistaken for a drum solo.
More particular strategies are isolated on those tracks where a piano’s natural resonance or the spatial qualities of a church building are used to fatten the sound so that it takes on unique permutations. Echoing spaciousness aids her in creating a buoyant, almost familiar melody on “E” not at all hindered by wielding the contra-alto clarinet. Back on bass clarinet with “A” her piano-innards-strained output becomes heavier and harder as she aggressively moves through the improvisation. Before the screeching, low-pitched finale, her sheets of sound have isolated both so-called legitimate clarinet tones as well as those which could come from a Turkish bass flute. Overall the effect is sonically illuminating without a hint of braggadocio.
It’s the same with all these discs. Each person has outlined or solidified one or several manners of sustaining solo reed improvisations. None will ever be widely popular, but each deserves careful listening as music –and sound – evolves.
Track Listing: Everybody: 1. Bec troué 2. Avant canal 3. Canal 4. Parallè̀le blanche 5. Plan objectif 6. Skeleton key 7. Aprè̀s canal
Personnel: Everybody: Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone)
Track Listing: Bass: 1. AE 2. U 3. O 4. E 5. I 6. UE 7. A
Personnel: Bass: Susanna Gartmayer (bass clarinet, contra-alto clarinet)
Track Listing: Erfolg: Feedback I 2. Inside 3. Air 4. Multi 5. Feedback II 6. Slap 7. Whizzing 8. Feedback III 9. Overtone 10. Sinking 11. Feedback IV 12. Bow
Personnel: Erfolg: Hans Koch (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet and feedback)
Track Listing: Return: 1. From Far A Low Word Breathes 2.Why? I Asked 3. Please 4. Wind Breaker 5. I Just Came to Tell You to Tell Lesley. Will You? 6. Pry Loose; I Try To Speak 7. A Fog 8. Return, Serene Skoarkki 9. Cease, Silent Love 10. Taps/Gone the Sun 11. Shortcut (Via Snavvavagge)
Personnel: Return: Ola Paulson (alto and baritone saxophones and preparations)