July 11, 2016
Pirouet Records PIT 3090
Lucien Dubuis, Barry Guy & Alfred Vogel
Heavy Metal Rabbit
Boomslang No #
Although the titles of these trio CDs appear more like the elements of a nightmare than anything else, the hyperbolic images mask two fine instances of how to utilize the condensed framework of a bass clarinet-double-bass-drums ensemble. Like the discordant anthropomorphic or professional models suggested by the titles, the members of each trio come up with a particular method to best express their collective ideas.
For a start the bunny ingot is an equal partnership among veteran British bassist Barry Guy, 69, known for his collaborations with the likes of Evan Parker and large scale compositions, plus two Continentals. Austrian percussionist Alfred Vogel, 44, experiments with various players in the jazz-improv firmament, while Swiss bass clarinetist Lucien Dubuis, 42, has worked with figures as disparate as Marc Ribot and Linda Sharrock. Altogether the eight rabbit dropping are group improvisations.
Following a more conventional path is Amsterdam-based bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs, 32. A prize winner for music rather than dental surgery, Roelofs, a former member of the Vienna Art Orchestra, wrote five of the 10 tunes here plus arrangements of the standard “Broadway”, Duke Ellington’s “Such Sweet Thunder”, “Funèbre”, based on a Scriabin sonata and a De Mechaut-composed mass. American drummer Ted Poor, 35, contributes one tune; and he and New York-based bassist Matt Penman, 42, spell Roelofs throughout. Like orthodontists who are cognizant with accepted techniques no matter their country or origin, the three operate as sympathetically as if they were part of a group dental practice.
None of the sounds on Amateur Dentist are as painful as pulling teeth. But the three have to make sure their professional skill doesn’t make the music as light as the laughing gas some practitioner use to ease procedures – creating harmless sounds that could only be played in a dental office. Luckily like those wall diplomas that proclaim a dentist’s training two of the reedist’s own compositions have the most bite. “Para Poli” for instance is a Latin-tinged swinger that quickly finds its groove, while “Samurai Curtain” has enough pluck from Penman and pop from Poor to keep it moving despite a dawdling pace. Bowed bass strokes express the melody on “Such Sweet Thunder”, with Roelofs alternately puffing out a low-pitched continuum or showing how a bass clarinet could move into rocking backbeat territory. As for “Broadway”, the foot-tapping treatment finds the reedist in a retrained 21st Century Jimmy Giuffre-like role.
Yet it’s the adaptations of so-called classical material that as obviously as a dental x-ray illuminates, the trio’s accomplishments. “Kyrie and Gloria”, for instance, based on De Machant’s “Messe de Notre Dame” is like a hygienist’s rote admonition to keep flossing. It neatly ends the disc, but its simplicity makes it so bland no one could be offended – or moved. More notably “Funèbre”, while having familiar sections that could be merely read by the reedist, at least includes enough drum rattles, string plinks and a final clarinet cadenza to stretch the theme enough to free it from its origins.
There are no precedents hanging over the proceedings that resemble a beckoning carrot in front of a hutch on the other CD though. Instead Dubuis, Guy and Vogel are free to pull as many rabbits out of their proverbial hats as they wish. An old hand at this sort of sleight-of-hand, Guy is at his most febrile on “Dorimu “, which conjures up the image of a cartoon villain clandestinely sneaking around a badly drawn corner. It combines bell-like resonation from the bass strings with perfectly symmetrical drum rolls from Vogel plus rooster-like crowing from Dubuis. With the reedist able to hop along producing tones ranging from altissimo whistles to subterranean runs, a halting sound dissolve gives the piece a distinctive ending. Granted the title may suggest otherwise, but Breath” shows off Vogel’s skill in digging novel timbres from inside his kit, like a hare seeking out buried nutrients. He provides the leaping pulsations with accents ranging from jadedly malevolent to sympathetically melodic as the bassist rugged rasgueado provides a continuum. As the piece progressives, the bass clarinetist’s exposition narrows until finally climaxing with a single breath. Ignoring steady rhythms, the drummer cooks up a rabbit-stew-like mixture of moods by emphasizing techniques from power punching via sticks on “Urug Uhaw”, matched by Dubuis’ laughing feral cat-like squeaks and Guy’s ratcheting strums; or bookends the reedist’s upper-register passion on “Palo” with clanging cymbals that provided a theatrical introduction and a finale that mirrors the introduction.
The clearest demarcation between the trios is “Ibog Nus Irak Hgnis”, which is also the least straight ahead tune on the program. Perhaps the heavy metal rabbit is at its most dangerous mode here since chiming bass strings tensed against the bridge and chain-like rattles widen the sonic color field to Technicolor proportions. With Dubuis squeezing bent tones from his instrument with visceral intensity, the histrionic results move so close to melodrama that gory cannibalism is suggested from bunnies that are supposed to be vegetarian. Happily Vogel produces some clipping glass-like sounds that confirm both the ending and the cotton-tailed rodent’s harmlessness.
While it’s interesting that the slightly older trio has produced less standardized music than the younger one with these CDs, both bands are worthy of investigation.
Track Listing: Heavy: 1. Wahu Guru 2. Urug Uhaw 3. Dorimu 4. Breath 5. Singh Kari Sun Gobi 6. Ibog Nus Irak Hgnis 7. Human Form 8. Palo
Personnel: Heavy: Lucien Dubuis (bass clarinet); Barry Guy (bass and toys) and Alfred Vogel (drums, percussion and SPD Octopad)
Track Listing: Amateur 1. Snakes and Eagles 2. Broadway 3. Pseudo Bebop 4. Para Poli 5. Funèbre 6. Amateur Dentist 7. Twerp 8. Samurai Curtain 9. Such Sweet Thunder 10. Kyrie and Gloria
Personnel: Amateur: Joris Roelofs (bass clarinet); Matt Penman (bass) and Ted Poor (drums)