January 21, 2016
What River is This?
ILK 226 CD
Lotte Anker/Fred Frith
Edge of the Light
Intakt CD 237
Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker has been involved in a diverse cross section of musicians since she first began recording in 1985, from the Copenhagen Art Ensemble to sessions with the likes of pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Gerald Cleaver. One of the most fruitful of recent collaborations has been with British guitarist Fred Frith and these two discs show off Janus-faced sides of this combination.
Commissioned by Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and Copenhagen’s Wundergrund Festival, What River is This is an extended composition obliquely dealing with hypnagogia, the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep. Besides Anker and Frith, the ensemble especially formed exclusively for the performance includes clarinetist Anna Klett, violist Garth Knox, bassist Jesper Egelund, percussionist Chris Cutler, Ikue Mori on electronics and Phil Minton, singing words as well as producing expected verbal noises. Lighter in personnel, with only Anker playing soprano, alto and tenor saxophones plus Frith on guitar, Edge of the Light is also … well, edgier.
Over the course of eight tracks on the second CD the saxophonist and guitarist demonstrate their close affiliation with a variety of textural explorations with Anker’s horns brushing up against appropriate sonic path-finding from Frith electric guitar lines and vice versa. Like computer programmers who keep track of the underlying operating system even as they try out new processes, the two never deny the expected string-reed cohesion however. Among the tongue splattering and narrowed sputters on the saxophonist’s part and the chordal crunches and string and amp recoil from the guitarist, you can detect a thematic circle closing from the introductory “Anchor Point” to the concluding “Hallucinating Angels”.
Metaphorically fastening on those technological concepts for which the programmers would be searching, the duets here are exploratory rather than details oriented. On “Thief Breaks into An Empty House” for instance, Frith’s interface is such that Anker’s tenor saxophone output that runs from growling snorts to altissimo puffs could be trading licks with an out-of-tune calliope. Rasping flanges and grating buzzes from Frith on “Reasonably Available Control Measure” catch up with Anker’s whines and wiggles to the extent that the desolation of cosmic travel is sonically posed before squeezes and peeps resolve this into cooperation. Perhaps another space ship has arrived. Taking into account the construction of their respective instruments, the two can also mimic each others’ output. As they do on “Run Don’t Hide”. As swift as a theatrical scene change in a one-person performance, clanking guitar runs and squealing alto saxophone bites assimilate so many extensions of the root tones that it’s almost impossible to distinguish reed from string. Luckily a downshifted coda of string strumming and graceful breaths eventually reveal the personnel.
As different as a concert hall is to a nightclub, the concept and presentation of What River is This is about as far as can be from the almost casual duets that make up Edge of the Light. For a start, with the eight-piece ensemble including more typically orchestral instruments such as viola and clarinets, the tendency is to harmonize and color the proceedings rather than emphasize solo work. Additionally, another factor which makes Anker’s 10-part suite programmatic is Minton, who usually can’t find a timbre he can’t mangle from within a mouth cavity, as well as he sing-speaking words and phrases that illuminate the underlying hypnagogic state of consciousness. With thematic material stated with dreamy tonality on “The Sleeping &The Awake/Apx 1” and repeated three subsequent times, the shape of the composition is set.
Key to the presentation is that much of the program is designed for group realization. Like the tones of a pipe organ harmonized in unison to make a throbbing whole, the result is infrequently pierced by singular strokes. These, which range from the electronic squiggling or plunger tones, or reed squeals are only momentary distractions and never upset the suite’s inevitable forward movement.
A compelling swing meter from the bassist and drummer does arrive on “The Sleeping & The Awake/Apx 2”. But even as that piece then slips into a hubbub of disquieting saxophone flutter tonguing, double-stopped string pop and madhouse-like voice glossolalia from Minton on “Running - Getting Nowhere” and much later on “Nightmares Exist”, the exposition is expanded and elaborated but never ruptured. Finally with wispy instrumental overtones backing Minton’s reiteration, the piece settles into a satisfying if somewhat conventional finale.
Both CDs prove Anker’s creative skill in different milieu. Depending on preferences some may want her improvisatory skills upfront alongside Frith, or her compositional talents on display as part of a well-modulated ensemble.
Track Listing: River: 1. Indifferent Moon 2. The Sleeping & The Awake/Apx 1 3. Dense Matter/No Exit 4. Northern Lights 5. The Sleeping & The Awake/Apx 2 6. Running - Getting Nowhere 7. The Sleeping & The Awake/Apx 3 8. Waterpalace 9. Nightmares Exist 10. The Sleeping & The Awake/Apx 4
Personnel: River: Anna Klett (clarinet, bass clarinet); Lotte Anker soprano, alto and tenor saxophones); Garth Knox (viola); Fred Frith (guitar); Jesper Egelund (bass); Chris Cutler (drums, percussion); Ikue Mori (electronics) and Phil Minton (vocals)
Track Listing: Edge: 1. Anchor Point 2. Run Don't Hide 3. Reasonably Available Control Measure 4. The Mountain is as Quiet as the Eternal Past 5. Non-precision Approach Procedure 6. Thief Breaks into an Empty House 7. The Same Dirt 8. Hallucinating Angels
Personnel: Edge: Lotte Anker (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones) and Fred Frith (guitar