August 6, 2015
Relative Pitch Records RPR 1021
Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim
Creative Sources CS 280 CD
Slippery as the terms may be, labeling these trumpet plus low-strings duos as “avant-garde” or “experimental sounds” confirms that the programs wouldn’t be what you would get from a duet of Doc Cheatham and Major Holley or even Nat Adderley and Sam Jones. Like fun house mirror reflections, the meetings between Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and German bassist Alexander Frangenheim on Nax or American trumpeter Liz Albee and Australian cellist Anthea Caddy on Zerfall both eschew song forms to deal with the instruments’ capacity to generate unique, unspecified sounds. Yet the expanded parameters of one are such that the program almost makes the other CD appear to be as conventional as a pop single by Taylor Swift.
The first would be Zerfall, whose nine tracks are almost completely in the realm of uncompromising abstractions. Albee’s use of field recordings, and the fact that both players were recorded in different places, makes the first and final tracks bleakly singular. “For Janus” comes across like an aural snapshot of a long highway drive while the equally spacey “Decay” finally subsides into granular textures. Even when trumpeter Albee and cellist Caddy share studio space, as on “The Gates” and “Past Future Faces”, the prolonged whooshes and pulsating growls are attuned to signal process-like oscillations. Only when string yanks and mouthpiece sucks can be identified do human reassurances enter the equation. Like the culmination of extended techniques demonstrations, the Berlin-recorded studio tracks’ encompass generous pauses, verbalized nonsense syllables, didjeridoo-like gusts and cello plucks, with a summation that balances signaling rhythms and staccato blasts. However the anomaly that is “Trenches” suggests what would have transpired if Peter Brötzmann’s “Machine Gun” had been recorded by one trumpeter and one cellist. A cacophonous Free Jazz blow-out, the broken-chord col legno cello strokes and guttural plunger growls could also be heard as raucous burlesque of a macho approach to abstraction.
Veterans, Tamura and Frangenheim may be male, but while their version of double bass-trumpet interaction may sometimes be deafening and rambunctious, it’s also lacking in macho posturing by design. That’s because the veterans have participated in as many Free Music variations as seemingly exist. In the bull fiddler’s case this has involved interaction with German and British improvisers such as trombonist Günter Christmann; and in the brass player’s experience with a similar number of French, American and Japanese innovators, most prominently his wife, pianist Satoko Fujii. However unlike the other duo, no matter how many extended techniques are used, there there’s no question that a trumpet and a double bass are the instruments recorded.
Tamura who made some excellent duo sides with drummers Jim Black or Aaron Alexander at the turn of the century equals that work here, ironically enough since Frangenheim is a particularly percussive bull fiddler. Tracks such as “Acun02”, “Acun07” and “Acun08” for instance feature as much high energy sawing and stropping as spiccato thrusts or guitar-like plucks on the bassist’s part. When Frangenheim’s crackling involvement become as red hot as a barely controllable bush fire, wood on front and back of his instrument is in play as well as the strings and bow. For his part the trumpeter faces these slaps and sweeps with an assembly line-like continuous collection of wet mouthpiece kisses, blustery fowl call approximations and toy-like squeaks. Other tracks are even more violent and expansive with col legno string splats facing disconnected bugle-like blats, plus darker expirations with a combination of maniac and baby cries challenging slaps and pumps. Most notably the extended “Acun06” could be defined as traditional Free Jazz. Constantly accelerating and narrowing the narrative, as pulls and stops make it appear the bassist is wiping his bow over his strings, the trumpeter responds with a wide-bore approximation of brass circular breathing until the two reach a conclusive blend.
Still these instances make up only a few chapters of this tale, with a track such as “Acun04” illuminating other musical paths. Beginning with cramped tremolo tones from Tamura and clanking strums from the bassist, half-way through the narrative becomes melodic. While not quite in the Cheatham-Holley genre, that mellow trumpeting and bouncy strokes certainly come close to mainstream Jazz. This expressiveness is confirmed on “Acun05” where despite snarky brass whistle and bolo-bat like strokes from Frangenheim, it’s obvious that close-listening on both sides is responsible for each response with stopwatch-like efficiency.
Nax is an outstandingly mature instance of up-to-date Free Jazz from a duo who knows all of its ins and outs. More difficult listening Zerfall isn’t for everyone. But those willing to travel to more abstract destinations may be amply rewarded.
Track Listing: Nax: 1. Acun01 2. Acun02 3. Acun03 4. Acun04 5. Acun05 6. Acun06 7. Acun07 8. Acun08 9. Acun09 10. Acun10.
Personnel: Nix: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet and toys) and Alexander Frangenheim (bass)
Track Listing: Zerfall: 1. For Janus 2. Egress 3. The Gates 4. Past Future Faces 5. Pits 6. Trenches7. Accumulation 8. The Absence 9. Decay
Personnel: Zerfall: Liz Albee (trumpet, synthesizer and field recordings) and Anthea Caddy (cello)