Cor Fuhler/Jim Denley

Degas
Split Records 24

Sensaround

Isotropes

hellosQuare Recordings cube065

Reed-keyboard-electronic interface connect these brief European-Antipodean sessions, confirming once again that paths to uncommon improvisations are being trod upon as frequently in Australia as elsewhere. Considering the outdoor sonic possibilities down under, all of the players have been involved in spatial and site specific projects in the past. Yet the necessity for plugging in makes the discs house-bound, although infused with aural spaciousness.

Degas matches the alto saxophone and preparations skills of native Aussie Jim Denley with the piano and preparations of Cor Fuhler, who moved from Amsterdam to Sydney in 2012. Isotropes is another matter. Visiting Scot, alto and soprano saxophonist Raymond MacDonald, who also come from a place with rugged landscapes to spare, was in Australia for a series of acoustic concerts with local pianist Alister Spence. But this disc extends the textures from his reeds plus the keyboardist’s Fender Rhodes with phrase samples, loops and grooves via the vintage samplers and pedals played by Canberra’s Shoeb Ahmad. Oddly enough, while Ahmadn specializes in spacey wave form creations, there’s more separation and tonal instrumental delineation on Isotropes than Degas.

Conversely only on “Wag”, the second of the two tracks recorded in Fuhler’s backyard studio selected for the disc, are expected piano motifs in place. And even here and on the other tunes, the keyboardist is more likely to be strumming internal strings or using preparations to shake organ-like smudges from his instrument than resorting to expected piano tropes. At the same time on this track and “Skive” Denley uses angled split tones, tongue slaps and horizontal blowing across the reed to establish his singular approach. While the resulting timbres from either may sometimes appear as far apart as distances between outback settlements, the liquid-styled gaps are often forded. On “Wig” for instance, soon after woodpecker-like bites from Denley break up the tune, more intense aviary reed buzzes and keyboard patterning suture the two into flat-line connection. Processed rainbow hue-like tone colors are more prominent on “Skive”, but these same preparations squeeze formerly stretched and arched horn and keyboard tints into a polyphonic tonal embrace.

Casting aside Australians’ supposed unbreakable links to the rustic outdoors, many of the otherworldly soundscape are far removed from any natural sounds. Instead most of the juddering vibrations result from Ahmad’s electronics, with supplementary wave forms sourced from Spence’s Fender Rhodes and pedals. MacDonald, the only European, plays all acoustically however with carefully positioned blowing. Centrepiece of the session is the extended “sense iv”. More than twice times the length of any other track, the piece goes through loops of crushed timbres and quivers producing a cumulative effect like a brush stroke-blended oil painting. At the same time, just as the oppressive electronic tones threaten to congeal into an unyielding mass almost like the density of Oz’s interior bush land, like a lone gunslinger – or his Down Under equivalent – MacDonald figuratively comes riding across the plain to supply individuality in the shape of in-and-out air draughts and emphatic circular breathing. Compellingly, this meld of slowly vibration textures concludes as a constructionist showcase.

From the beginning of its recorded history, Europeans’ excursions down under have provided their share of exploitation and unpalatable additions to the Australian landscape. However these particular musical visitors collaborate with the local to create distinctive improvisational programs.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Degas 1. Skive 2. Wag

Personnel: Degas: Jim Denley (alto saxophone and preparations) and Cor Fuhler (piano and preparations)

Track Listing: Isotropes: 1. sense i 2. sense ii 3. sense iii 4. sense iv 5. sense v 6. sense vi

Personnel: Isotropes: Raymond MacDonald (alto and soprano saxophones); Alister Spence (Fender Rhodes and pedals) and Shoeb Ahmad (Boss SP-202 and SP-303, pedals)