July 1, 2016
Cuneiform Records RUNE 411
Firehouse 12 Records FH12-04-01-022
Distinctively re-jigging the rhythm section so that the tuba takes the places of a double bass gives many ensembles a certain post-modern fillip. At the same time by reverting to the early Jazz configuration of a brass bass, the band runs the risk of waddling too often into Second Line simplicity. Two sextets – one American and one Swiss – deal with this challenge inventively, but in different ways, confirming that the lowest-toned member of the brass family usually needs more than condensed space in which to express its full tonal range.
One caution in interpretation is that no longer are these solutions nation-based; if anyone is a global citizen it’s a musician. Marc Unternährer, the Swiss band Le Rex’s tuba player for instance, has deep-set Chicago connections. He spent some time in bands with Windy City players Josh Berman and Keefe Jackson. Wild Man was even recorded in Chicago without becoming a faux American product. That’s because the other band members – saxophonists Benedikt Reising and Marc Stucki, trombonist Andreas Tschopp and drummer Rico Baumann – spend their time in working throughout Europe in various musical collectives. Over on Ubatuba, the quintet’s composer and saxophonist, Ingrid Laubrock, is a German who now lives in Brooklyn. The rest of the band is 100 per cent American – except as New Yorkers perhaps not in the eyes of the likes of Ted Cruz – and work in different local bands. Trombonist Ben Gerstein, tubaist Dan Peck and drummer Tom Rainey are usually sidefolk; saxophonist Tim Berne a leader.
Anything but cheesy, the 13 tracks from the Swiss quartet lash by with the same combination of struts, slides and spiffs, with everyone except for the drummer contributing compositions. Balanced by Unternährer’s basement dwelling brass tones as if it’s the vessel’s hull on which shipwrecked sailors are clinging, the soloists are still lively enough to cross and re-cross each others’ lines as if they were dancing a collective horn pipe. If pieces like “Dwarf” and “Mr. Richard Kiel” start off with scary horror-movie-styled shakes, then they quickly right themselves to become propulsive marches. In contrast, the smoother “A Walk on South Michigan” may be spiced with drum rattles, but harmonized plunger trombone and tenor saxophone textures otherwise spread the theme like butter on toast. Once snarky reed bites and brass slurs subside, “Be in Shape” heads for “Up the Lazy River” territory. And this sense of relaxed fun is fuelled as on “Riff Raff” when Baumann’s cross pulse refers both to Caribbean and North African beats.
Still the quintet fares better when the frog marching beats and the jittery, R&B styled sax solos are put to one side. Although “Hymn to the Cold” is alive with overwrought Led Zeppelin-like energy, it still includes enough mellow reed injections from Reising to reconstitute the Led into something resembling laid back. The concept is taken to a vertex on “Anchor” where a series of solos from Tschopp, Unternährer and the saxophonists move from replicating sick hippo blats and disturbed aviary screeches into a relaxed snappy theme reminiscent of the equally brass heavy 8 Bold Souls.
As different from Le Rex as Brooklyn is from Basel, Ubatuba may have identical instrumentation but an antithetical concept. Unlike Wild Man’s motley tune collection, Laubrock’s six compositions hang together like a matching wardrobe. For instance, the introduction, “Any Breathing Organism” stretches toffee-like, as low-toned air circulation almost as far as possible, before a saxophone’s sharp interjections unblock the stiff tones for a new theme conveyed by drum rattles and processed tuba sighs. The major sequences, “Hiccups” and “Hypnic Jerk”, are surrounded by variations of these gingerly balanced themes. Working up to and descending from both tunes are sweet-and-sour reed expositions that move through cosseted unisons, with sudden interjections of textures ranging from squeaky Tweetie Bird-like peeps to tortured freak notes, cemented by Rainey’s tempo consolidation,
More flowing than ventilating, “Hiccups” comes across like an exercise in elevated tone extension – except for Peck of course – as Laubrock and Berne expel their most strident vibrations, finally reaching pseudo-New Thing recreations of Frank Lowe, Albert Ayler or Dewey Redman. Rainey too boomerangs his output among approximations of Milford Graves’, Sunny Murray’s and Rashied Ali’s percussion strategies. If the track never approximates ecstatic Jazz, it’s because Laubrock aim is originality not divertissement. Tuba blares and a vamping swing section reoriented the piece towards tonality. The nearly 16-minute “Hypnic Jerk on the other hand is built up from pointillist and pitch-sliding slurs from Laubrock, shadowed by sonorous honks from Peck. Wiggling staccato cries from all the horns gradually relax into a variant of the breathing exercise which began the suite. Like the hoof beats of the cavalry at the climax of a Western movie siege, Rainey’s clip-clops not only signal the conclusion but also an echoing continuum.
Track Listing: Wild: 1. Mole’s Dream of the Prairie 2. Home Alone 3. Dwarf 4. Mr. Richard Kiel 5. Le Clic 6. Hymn to the Cold 7. Wild Man 8. Riff Raff 9. Sugar Maple 10. Anchor 11. Don't Lean on the Case! 12. A Walk on South Michigan 13. Be in Shape
Personnel: Wild: Andreas Tschopp (trombone); Marc Unternährer (tuba); Benedikt Reising (alto saxophone); Marc Stucki (tenor saxophone) and Rico Baumann (drums)
Track Listing: Ubatuba: 1. Any Breathing Organism 2. Homo Diluvii 3. Hiccups 4. Hall of Mirrors 5. Any Many 6. Hypnic Jerk.
Personnel: Ubatuba: Ben Gerstein (trombone); Dan Peck (tuba); Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Ingrid Laubrock (tenor and alto saxophones) and Tom Rainey (drums)