The Mirror Unit

Wind Makes Weather
Creative Sources CS 311 CD

Udo Schindler/Frank Paul Schubert

Parnassia Palustris

FMR CD 043 -0915

Devising a concert for unaccompanied improvised saxophone is difficult enough; expanding the idea for two reeds presents even more challenges; and when both reeds involved are from the identical saxophone the potential for failure mixed with adventure puts the show in the category of climbing previously unexplored mountains. Yet within seven months of one another two German based duos created these live shows which provide some of the thrills and chills of an adventure in uncharted territory along with breath-taking satisfaction when they reach their goals. But like 19th century explorers who came up with conflicting paths to the Arctic, each CD is a triumph in a unique fashion.

Parnassia Palustris pairs Berlin-based soprano saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert, known for his membership in bands with the likes of Alexander von Schlippenbach, with fellow soprano specialist Udo Schindler, who, from his Munich base, juggles careers as improviser and architect. Wind Makes Weather features two specialists in alto saxophonist and preparations: Köln-based Georg Wissel and Australian Tim O’Dwyer, who heads the School of Contemporary Music in Singapore, but at that time was a fellow at Köln’s Akademie der Kunst der Welt. In a way what Schindler/Schubert and Wissel/O’Dwyer do in programs of similar lengths is analogous to the famous mirror scene in The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. While Harpo, garbed as Groucho is making the same moves as his brother as if his mirror image, while the resemblance is close it isn’t perfect. So it is with the duos here

Another important difference is that despite a teeth-clenching display of extended techniques, Schindler/Schubert’s four tracks pulsate with an underlying swing feel. There aren’t melodies, but singly or together the two impart a basic rhythm throughout. Perhaps it’s the results of the “preparations” on the other hand, but Wissel/O’Dwyer appear more preoccupied with saxophone property exploration. Each part of the instrument(s) gets its due with the metal body and keys as much a part of the show as air blown into the horn’s body tube. Periodically as well the two are involved in musical ping-pong matches, lobbing similar notes, tonal, phrases and cries back and forth between them. A signal-processed fuelled arrangement as on “Old Believer” may winnow its way from broad tongue slaps to pinpointed whines, but it’s still a 21st Century variant of traditional cutting contests of Jazz lore.

Otherwise the experimental textures are most prominent, with sounds including those resembling percussive flatulence, wolf cries, dog whistles and sibilate hoots glazing the interaction on such tunes as “Morse”, as door-stopper-like resonation from the processes add more percussiveness. Besides that passages are given over to reed snuffles and tongue fluttering, with both players miniaturizing their concepts enough to probe the innermost parts of their horns and the metal that surrounds them. Eventually after gurgles, silences and stratospheric tones have all been exhibited, the climax comes with the oddly named “Howling through Marram Grass”, which contrarily doesn’t howl but instead finds them discharging more common reed tones as they relax into an ending.

Changing German cities from windy weather to northern marsh grass, Schindler and Schubert act most like laboratory tone scientists on the first and longest track, “Celebrate the Light”. Displaying figurative test tubes filled with squeals and moans, whispers and hiccups, one player always appears to be blasting off for the stratosphere with unchecked wails, while the other sticks to terra firma with bucolic romping. In a wonderful instance of polyphony in the first section the two sound as if they’re improvising within a giant church bell so that the resonations bring out auxiliary vibrations as well as the initial tones. Often playing a half-step apart like race horses in harness, they unite rapid tongue quivers at the end for gratifying unison cries.

Progressively abbreviating each subsequent track, so that the concluding “Lithely Built” is a less-than-two-minute exercise in harmonized squeaks and blows, the rest of the performance provides space for free expression. Without abandoning underlying melody and rhythm, every sort of broken tone, dissonant pitch and sputtering tongue and mouth gymnastic has its place. As one saxophonist specializes in upwards corkscrew movement and the other in stuttering chirps, they’re evenly matched but without rancor. An instance of this is evident on “Painted Green” where one saxophonist rappels from guttural to altissimo peeps and the other outputs even higher tones.

Here are two variants on the dual saxophone meeting, each valid and each valuable.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Parnassia: 1. Celebrate The Light 2. Colours of Morning 3. Pointed Green 4. Lithely Built

Personnel: Parnassia: Udo Schindler and Frank Paul Schubert (soprano saxophones)

Track Listing: Wind: 1. Authentic City 2. Whistling Maid 3. Morse 4. Arthropod 5. Equinox 6. Wind Makes Weather 7. Old Believer 8. Howling Through Marram Grass

Personnel: Wind: Georg Wissel and Tim O’Dwyer (alto saxophones and preparations)