Birgit Ulher/Leonel Kaplan

Stereo Trumpet
Relative Pitch Records RPR 1030

Itaru Oki & Axel Dörner

Root of Bohemian

Improvising Beings IB36

Creating unaccompanied free-form duets can be more of a challenge with trumpets than any other instrument. With no series of keys like a saxophone or even the additional timbres stretching from a trombone slide means that inspiration must be expressed through fingering and breath control. Two international brass duos – German Birgit Ulher and Argentinean Leonel Kaplan plus German Axel Dörner and Japanese, long-time French resident Itaru Oki – deal admirably with the situation. Yet each twosome untangles the puzzle in a unique fashion.

Kaplan-Ulher define their instrumental meeting as one centred around sound sources that just happen to emanate from brass instruments. Kaplan has use variations of this trumpet transformation in bands with British saxophonist John Butcher and others. Experienced in all sorts of brass transmogrification, Ulher uses a radio, speaker and objects to alter her horn’s timbres. Meanwhile the other duo concerns itself with the limits to which brass sounds can be pushed while still retaining recognizable trumpet and flugelhorn timbres. Dörner, who plays both Free Jazz and Free Music, has been refining this concept for years alongside many other Euro improvisers, including Butcher. Oki has worked with everyone from guitarist Raymond Boni to bassist Benjamin Duboc

During longer and shorter improvisations, Kaplan-Ulher maintain interest in antithetical manners, either by producing floating unaccented air vibrations or by violently forcing immutable brass tones against seemingly immoveable objects. While the staccato violence associated with the latter technique creates notable percussive qualities, often leavened by tick-tock pressure from Ulher’s objects – imagine an all-metal space traveler thwacking brass tones with antennae – the former is often just as effective. Constant lip-and-tongue pressure against the mouthpiece inflates the result to dense squirming forward motion. With brief brass blasts alternating with backwards rattling tones, the combined dissonance adds up to a corrosive climax. Most instructive is the concluding title track as the two play in tandem as if Nikola Tesla-harnessed electronic impulses are passing between them. Whistling shrills and drones in overdrive combine for a wheezing conclusion that defines the program as it masks textural identification.

With Root of Bohemian in contrast there’s no question that brass instrument are being played, although ascribing individuality is almost impossible. Snores and growls from pursed lips alternate with barely-there breaths leaked out the way water leaks from a sieve. With one brass player creating a more-or-less chromatic line and the other sucking and snarling around it, in some cases distant turns become melodic. On “Tentishirazu” for instance, the affiliated tones are eventually assembled into a sonic portrait whose attractiveness is made all the more striking as it’s built up from brief pointillist bites, extended whinnying and even a skewed variant of “Reville”.

Janus-like attributes of tonality and atonality are tested on earlier pieces such as “Space (Change from Silence)” and “Kazaana”. As animalistically suggestive as it is musical, the latter finds simian-sounding tremolo from one horn neatly surmounted by stinging pitches that could come from a slide-whistle shrills or sul ponticello violin motions, then blasted into satisfying wide textures. As connective in its way as Ulher and Kaplan are on their defining duets, burbles tremolo snorts and vacant, valve-less sighs are pushed forward by Oki and Dörner so that tandem connections arrive as the two approach the line from high and low pitches as well as dampened and emphatic tones.

Displays of how far brass timbres can be pushed are unabashedly demonstrated on Root of Bohemian. Pushing the boundaries still further out is Stereo Trumpet. Denying the intuitive brassiness of the trumpet to transform it into a sound may not be for everyone, just as the tone mauling may not attract others. But if charting in how many interesting ways the brass horn can be configured interests you, then so will these experimental sessions.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Stereo: 1. Otto sees Anna 2. I Did. Did I 3. Late Metal 4. Stereo Trumpet

Personnel: Stereo: Leonel Kaplan (trumpet) and Birgit Ulher (trumpet, radio, speaker, objects)

Track Listing: Root: 1. Spider Strings 2. Space (Change from Silence) 3. Kazaana 4. Tentishirazu 5. Hagoromo.

Personnel: Root: Axel Dörner (trumpet) and Itaru Oki (trumpet and flugelhorn)