Lisbon Berlin Trio

The Line
Clean Feed CF 312 CD

Hyperactive Kid

10 Year Anniversary Live

WhyPlayJazz RSO 16LP

Detonating guitar-centric sounds, the performances on these CDs draw as much from the indicative tropes of noise, punk and metal as the assurance of free sounds. Although both sessions share Berlin-based drummer Christian Lillinger, the cooperative Hyperactive Kid’s CD is superior to the one from the Lisbon Berlin Trio due to a better balance among disparate elements.

Organized by Portuguese guitarist Luís Lopes, who often plays advanced Jazz with Lisbon-based tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado as well as expressing himself on rockier terrain, the Lisbon Berlin Trio is completed by accomplished double bassist Robert Landfermann from Köln plus Lillinger. Kindred spirits for more than a decade, Hyperactive Kid matches Lillinger’s vigorous but never overbearing drum patterning with scrappy input and the compositions of two other Berliners: guitarist Ronny Graupe’s jagged strumming and slurry digressions from tenor saxophonist Philipp Gropper.

At the same time Hyperactive Kid doesn’t play easy-listening music, which in this case would be hard rock. With staccato smacks and smashes from the drummer, and winnowing snorts from the saxophonist, most tunes are deconstructed before they reach duplication, although harmonic unity preserves the themes. As an example, the slippery-slidey “Cocody” could pass for a stop-time program that snuck out of New York’s Lower East Side to roots in East Berlin. With timbral coloration radiating from Lillinger’s rattling cymbals and focused drum beats plus Gropper’s harsh snarls slicing through the color field like a Saracen sword through silk, it’s Graupe’s sympathetic chord cascades which regularize and harmonize the exposition. Lillinger’s bass-drum whacks create connective sound loops on a tune such as “Wes”, while the saxophonist’s double-tongued attack and the guitarist’s metallic runs shudder back and forth before reaching a synthesis of responsive chords. Instructively, all this is achieved without the trio having to resort to the puerile noisiness of a Rock power trio.

Amalgamating the textures that ricochet every which way through the climatic, nearly 17-minute “Boom” demonstrates Hyperactive Kid’s virtues in microcosm. Among sequences which could be to be the result of fanciful epileptic seizures, Lillinger’s pressurized rim rattles, Graupe’s tremolo strums and Gropper’s snarling split tones succeed in almost dismantling the timbral edifice they construct elsewhere. But just as it appears as if the melody structure is crumbling, the guitarist’s sympathetic fills centre the sequence. Further decorated with sly reed snorts, the theme reappears with a satisfying coda of attached strums and slurs.

More in-your-face in his exposition than Graupe however Lopes’ distorted roughness on The Line pulls the other trio members away from memorable rapport. In context there’s nothing wrong with the guitarist’s playing. It’s only that he seems to be unable to decelerate. Nearly every track symbolically features the proverbial 1-10 amp volume turned up to 11. His few understated and placid strums invariably mutate into Alka-Seltzer-like fizzes of machine-like drones, doom-laden fuzz tones and machine-gun-like sprays of violently strangled licks. For his part, Lillinger uses a reflective hand-patting style to regularize tracks such as the two separated parts of “Dark Suite”, as Landfermann’s high-pitched timed shakes do the same. When roused, as on the title track the drummer displays reflective patterning and double handed smacks to create a fluid response to the guitarist’s flayed expressions. But a further quickening of Lopes’ exposition with every manner of knob-twisting and hard down strokes exposed, forces the other players to match the guitarist’s exaggerated orbit rather than vice-versa.

Happily aggression turn to affiliation on “Mother Snake”, perhaps because the three have enough space – almost 13 minutes – in which to elucidate a more sophisticated punk-metal-jazz power trio setting. Chording from the top of his range so that his notes buzz like angry mosquitoes, Lopes build tones upon droning tones, almost drowning out the others. The drummer responds with speedy percussive tumbles; although Landfermann’s steady bass line is practically inaudible. Finally violent drum smacks and guitar licks which resemble helicopter blade’s propeller noises, reach a climax of altered and echoing textures. The track succeeds as an expression of raw power, but lacks story-telling qualities.

In the short term it appears as if after a simpatico decade the Hyperactive Kid has create a high-quality and distinct sound of its own. Lopes’ dominant guitar chops unfortunately dominate the Lisbon-Berlin Trio, so that it lacks a cohesive game plan. If he could relax his zealousness and/or the others could assert themselves more, the talent is there to create more memorable discs in the future.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Anniversary: 1. Legacy 2. Wes 3. Cocody 4. Sound to Groove 5. Bloom

Personnel: Anniversary: Philipp Gropper (tenor saxophone); Ronny Graupe (guitar) and Christian Lillinger (drums)

Track Listing: Lisbon: 1. Dark Suite (Prologue) 2. Vertico 3. Mother Snake 5 4. Dark Suite (Epilogue) 5. The Line 6. Schwarzwald

Personnel: Lisbon: Luís Lopes (guitar); Robert Landfermann (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums)